It's easy to overlook Florida International. After all, they're 0-2 so far this year, and were only 3-9 last season. They're 99th in passing, 73rd in rushing, 68th in points allowed and 108th in points scored. And they're in the Sun Belt, a conference that is to the NCAA what the Big East is to the BCS. Like I said, it's easy to overlook Florida International.
It would also be a bad idea.
In their first two games, they've played two pretty good BCS teams in Rutgers and Texas A&M. They outgained Rutgers; they were beating both teams heading into the fourth quarter. They're just two fourth quarter defensive lapses away from being 2-0 and probably a national storyline.
The Golden Panthers took a 14-13 lead over Rutgers into the fourth quarter only to have Mohamed Sanu take in a 24-yard WR reverse later in the game. Rutgers missed the two-point conversion, but held onto the 19-14 lead. FIU outgained Rutgers 371 to a paltry 172, a number that should be scary considering Maryland's lack of offensive prowess against Navy and West Virginia. They also forced three turnovers, including two fumbles.
A similar situation occurred last week, when FIU took on Texas A&M. They were leading 20-6 heading into the fourth quarter, and the Aggies had to score three fourth quarter TDs, all of which were 30+ yard plays. They weren't as statistically dominant in this game; TAMU put up 400 yards, massive compared to FIU's 232. But this time they forced a startling five turnovers, which the Aggies were barely able to overcome.
Now, that doesn't mean that you should look at FIU as some sort of juggernaut. After all, a lot of what I said in the first paragraph holds true: statistically speaking, the Golden Panthers aren't intimidating. They've taken advantage of a flat Rutgers squad and a mistake-prone TAMU team to almost pull out wins. Ultimately, as long as Maryland can avoid those two problems, there shouldn't be any problems too big to overcome.
Offensively, the cupboard's not exactly full. There's talent at QB in Wesley Carroll, who started at Mississippi State his freshman year before eventually losing his job and transferring to FIU. Despite Carroll's relatively illustrious past, though, he's been the epitome of mediocre so far: 26-55, 283 yards, 2 TDs, and 3 INTs. He hasn't topped 200 yards passing in either game.
The running game hasn't been particularly impressive, either. Jeremiah Harden, who transferred from Syracuse, is the starting running back, and he hasn't topped 100 yards either game. He's averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and hasn't had a TD yet on the year. Noel Devine he is not.
Where FIU's made their statement is on defense. Just look at the stats: 20th in the country in pass defense, 28th in total defense, 6th in pass efficiency defense, 15th in turnovers forced, and 12th in sacks. Maryland's offense isn't better than FIU's defense in any one of those categories, and their competition has arguably been worse. It seems like FIU's legit.
The secondary that has spearheaded that effort is led by sophomore safety Jonathan Cyprien, who's been nothing short of a force. He's 16th in the country in solo tackles, which for comparison is ahead of Alex Wujciak, and he's forced two fumbles. The rest of the secondary's no joke, either; safeties Kreg Brown and Emmanuel Souarin have combined to break up seven passes and cornerback Anthony Gaitor has a pair of interceptions. The individual talent isn't outstanding, but you can't argue with the results.
The linebackers have played just as well. Toronto Smith is second on the team in tackles and is the lynchpin of the defense, and both Jarvis Wilson and true freshman Greg Hickman have two sacks a piece. Wilson has seen some time at DE throughout the season, too.
The only real weakness for FIU's defense is their run D; they're 57th in the country, but gave up 200+ yards to TAMU. That's mostly thanks to a sub-par, inexperienced defensive line.
The offense isn't imposing at all, even if they have talent. That, and the inability to run the ball, is what killed Maryland against West Virginia. Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett should be able to do exactly what Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray did last week: put up huge rushing numbers. As long as Jamarr Robinson can hold onto the ball and not force throws, Maryland should be okay. But this game is no gimme.