NCAA

FIU Expecting Growing Pains In Conference USA

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(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

UM

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – First-year Florida International University head coach Ron Turner has to follow the program’s best coach who took the team to its only two bowl games before being fired after a down season last year and do it all while playing in a tougher conference.

No pressure huh?

The Panthers will be moving up in conferences this season from the Sun Belt to Conference USA. As coaches and players from Conference USA teams met the media this week, FIU was the Rodney Dangerfield of the proceeding, receiving no respect.

The media picked FIU to finish dead last in Conference USA’s East Division this season and expect FIU to struggle to keep up with other teams in the conference after a tumultuous offseason.

After firing head coach Mario Cristobal, FIU’s top running back Kedrick Rhodes was thrown off the team last week. That dismissal came after an incident where multiple FIU players decided to strip during a team workout on a public beach.

Against that backdrop, Turner will be bringing his skills back to the college game. He last walked a college sideline as head coach in 2004 when his career at Illinois was ending. Turner compiled a 35-57 record at Illinois, but only had two winning seasons.

“We’re building something that can have success and can last,” Turner told CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald. “That’s not to say we don’t believe we can win many games and that we’re building for the future. We’re building for now, and trying to get our core values in place.”

Turner has quite a rebuilding job ahead of him at FIU. The team ranked 90th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 31.7 points per game. The Panthers also gave up 262.1 passing yards per game in 2012, which was 99th out of 124 teams in the country, according to cfbstats.com.

Turner’s issues aren’t limited to a leaky defense. His offense scored just 25 points per game last year and managed 145.3 rushing yards per game, but the majority of those came from Rhodes who is now off the team.

Overall, FIU’s offense managed just 383.8 yards of total offense per game in the Sun Belt Conference, which is traditionally much weaker than Conference USA.

In addition, while many teams will welcome back plenty of starters on both sides of the football, FIU brings back just four regular starters, two on offense and two on defense. But, one of those starters is quarterback Jake Medlock.

While battling injuries last year, Medlock threw for 2,127 yards, 13 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. Medlock also rushed the ball 87 times for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Still, Medlock will need to stay on the field more this year if FIU is to avoid a nightmarish season.

“Nothing on my body hurts anymore,” Medlock told the Herald. “I fixed my foot. I fixed my shoulder. I’m ready for a new beginning.”

Medlock and Turner said the new offense could help more because he will be running the ball less. That is of course if an offensive line with five new starters can keep Medlock off his back and open holes for whoever is running the football.

FIU will likely be able to win at least one of its first three games, before a road trip to a top ranked Louisville Cardinals team. FIU can compete with most of their opponents and anything is possible in the lower conferences like the Sun Belt and Conference USA.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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