DURHAM, N.C. (CBSMiami) – The last time Duke and Florida International tangled on the field, the Blue Devils ran right through FIU’s defense in Miami. Now, FIU has traveled to Duke looking for a bit of retribution in its season opening game.
The Panthers are favored to win the Sun Belt Conference this year, despite losing speedy receiver T.Y. Hilton and starting quarterback Wesley Carroll. Much of the hope surrounding FIU comes from the school retaining head coach Mario Cristobal, who has built a winner out of what was once a laughing-stock of a football team.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said the FIU game was “the toughest nonconference opener in the ACC,” even though other ACC schools open with games against teams from the always powerful Southeastern Conference.
For FIU, Jake Medlock will take over at quarterback and his top target may be Wayne Times. Last year, Times caught 54 passes for 540 yards and two touchdowns. But Medlock also has a stout running game to rely on with Kedrick Rhodes, who ran for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
FIU returns nearly the entire defense and 10 of the 11 projected starters on defense will be juniors or seniors in 2012. The Panthers were selected to win the Sun Belt conference in the preseason for the second year in a row.
“The right kind of hype … you do need for the growth of your program,” Cristobal said. “The moment you go to camp … we worked to a level that ‘hard work’ isn’t even a phrase that we use to describe the way we work. We think we surpass that. … I think that keeps you grounded. … I do think our guys have managed that very well.”
The Panthers’ main concern comes from the Duke passing game. Cutcliffe has tutored some of the game’s best quarterbacks, including both Manning brothers, and his latest protégé Sean Renfree played well against FIU’s defense last year.
Renfree’s main target will be Conner Vernon who caught eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown during last year’s matchup with FIU.
Duke is a three point favorite over FIU, but the Panthers have a history of going into a Football Bowl Subdivision school’s home stadium and walking out with a victory. Last season, FIU traveled to Louisville and upset the Cardinals.
FIU and Duke will kick off at 7:00 p.m., the game may be shown on ESPN3.com.
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