The game will be FIU’s first of 2020. Aside from a late-season upset of Miami, FIU’s 2019 was not much to write home about. The Panthers were not horrible, but they were not necessarily special either. FIU opened their 2019 season with back-to-back losses against Tulane and Western Kentucky. The Panthers defeated FCS New Hampshire in week three and lost to Louisiana Tech in week four before two blowout wins over UMass and Charlotte. From there, the Panthers defeated UTEP, got blown out by Middle Tennessee, defeated ODU, lost to Lane Kiffin and FAU, defeated the Miami Hurricanes, and lost by a field goal against Marshall to end the regular season. Arkansas State defeated FIU in the Camellia Bowl, which put FIU’s record at 6-7 to end 2019.
Coming off a win at Western Kentucky, Liberty football will play host to FIU in week two. They had a nice season in 2019, going 8-5 overall, behind only Notre Dame among Independents. The Flames earned a trip to the Cure Bowl, where they took out Georgia Southern 23-16.
Role Players Need to Step Up for Panthers
FIU will ask several former role players to fill starting positions in 2019, beginning with quarterback. In the absence of 2019 starter and current New York Jet James Morgan, dual-threat junior Kaylan Wiggins is the favorite to assume the starting role. In limited playing time last season, Wiggins completed 15 of 27 passes for 172 yards. Wiggins also rushed for 323 yards and three touchdowns in 2019.
Speaking of rushing, rising senior D’Vonte Price is favored to lead the Panthers’ backfield after 2019 running backs Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell signed with NFL teams. Price only rushed 50 times last year and will be leaned on in an incredibly young running back room.
The Panthers will benefit from the return of 2017 all-C-USA freshman wideout Bryce Singleton. A season-long injury forced Singleton to redshirt 2019, but the rising junior will return to FIU’s 2020 lineup. FIU also returns senior wideout Shemar Thorton (668 yards, five touchdowns) from 2019; but will count on returnees and recruits to emerge in the absence of graduated seniors Austin Maloney and Tony Gaiter IV: who finished second and third on the team in receiving last year, respectively.
FIU ranked 69thin total defense last season, just above 80th-ranked Liberty. FIU’s defensive backs were a team strength in 2019, and the unit will remain strong in 2020. Twin brothers Rishard and Richard Dames will anchor the unit. The twins tallied 59 and 56 tackles, respectively, last season; and Rishard led the team with four interceptions. FIU also returns linebacker Jamal Gates, who had 85 tackles in 2019. Additionally, the Golden Panthers landed Nebraska transfer cornerback Henry Gray. Gray, according to head coach Butch Davis, will be eligible to play against the Flames.
Flames Look to Heat Up
Liberty looked decent versus Western Kentucky in their opening game of the 2020 season. The Flames scored in every quarter but could not totally shake off the pesky Hilltoppers. Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, an Auburn transfer,threw for 133 yards and also led the rushers with 168 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. Joshua Mack also had a great day on the ground with 168 yards and three scores.
Last year, the Flames finished 97th in overall offense and 20th in rushing. Their secondary played a big part in allowing Western Kentucky to hang around in week 1. This should not be surprising, last year they had 119th ranked secondary out of 130 FBS teams. Their pass rush was ranked 71st and they ranked 109th overall on defense.
Trends found on Covers.com
The Flames are 5-1 ATS in their last six games overall
The Flames are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games in September.
FIU is 2-5 ATS in their last seven games overall
FIU is 0-4 ATS in their last four games in September.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
I like Liberty. The Flames’ offense in their opening game was not exactly explosive, but a steady pace in the running game and some great overall numbers there really helped with the results on the scoreboard. Liberty will likely want another heavy ball-control game like that again here, so expect a heavy dose of rushing until FIU proves they can stop it.
Prediction: Flames -6.5
Full-Game Total Pick
Both these teams are weak offensively and Liberty will look to their one strength, Joshua Mack. He had an 89.5 RB grade in 2019 and will eat up of a lot of clock. The Flames biggest weakness on defense is their secondary, 119th out of 130 last year. Fortunately, the Panthers have the 124th ranked receiving core. There is not going to be much offense in this contest.
Prediction: Under 57