Duke managed to upend Florida International on the road last year despite relinquishing 568 yards of total offense, but the Golden Panthers will be hard-pressed to match that number against the Blue Devils this year.
The departures of starting quarterback Wesley Carroll, who amassed a 14-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, one of the most dynamic playmakers that Duke faced all year, leave the Florida International offense greatly weakened. Sophomore quarterback Jake Medlock will still have a talented target in senior Wayne Times. Running back Darriet Perry, who added 102 rushing yards against the Blue Devils, also graduated.
Perry’s departure, however, does not mean that the rushing game will be abandoned, with a stout offensive line and a talented cadre of returning running backs led by 1,000-yard rusher Kedrick Rhodes. The ground game will prove all the more crucial after such significant losses in the passing game.
It is on defense where the Golden Panthers will hope to remain strong. A quality pass rush that ranked in the top 25 in the nation in sacks returns nearly all of its contributors from last season, including its top eight tacklers. Tourek Williams—preseason Sun Belt defensive player of the year who racked up 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss last season—will anchor the defensive front. The secondary will benefit from another year of experience as well, returning all four starters and 90 percent of its pass breakups.
Despite the losses on offense, Florida International projects to blitz through the Sun Belt conference in just the sixth year of the program’s existence, and has a reasonable chance to emerge undefeated from a relatively easy schedule.