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Behind Enemy Lines: Florida International

Maryland kicks off its 2013 football season Saturday at 12:30 p.m against Florida International. We talked with the Panthers' beat writer for the Miami Herald, Dave Neal, to learn a bit about the Terps' opponent.


These are a series of questions we asked Dave Neal, the Miami Herald's beat writer covering Florida International, about this version of the FIU Panthers football team. Dave keeps a blog about the Panthers on the Herald's website, Panthers Prowl, which you should absolutely check out for more perspective on Maryland's opening adversary.  Here's what we asked him and how he answered:

TT:  I think I speak for most Maryland fans when I say that I'm not terribly familiar with Florida International's roster. Which Panthers have the most talent, and who presents matchup problems for the Terps?

DN: The one matchup I like for FIU is the interior line when Maryland has the ball. After almost every practice during the first weeks of training camp, an NFL scout sat down with defensive line coach Andre Patterson to talk about defensive tackles Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman. Faciane's got great size, Hickman's built like a nose guard. FIU's got good depth at the defensive tackle position.

TT: What can you tell us about FIU's head coach, Ron Turner, and the offensive and defensive gameplans he's deployed in the past? Given his time in the NFL, is he a pro-style coach?

DN: Turner, a former NFL offensive coordinator acting as his own offensive coordinator, will employ a West Coast offense with some spread elements. FIU uses a vast number of sets. Defensively, they run a 4-3.
TT: Speaking of coaching, I remember that a few years ago, Mario Cristobal was being mentioned as one of the hottest coaching candidates in the country. He's since been canned. Did the program take serious steps backward as Cristobal's tenure came to a close?

DN: The 2012 season opened with FIU getting Top 25 votes, returning 21 of 22 starters on the defensive two-deep after being the No. 16 scoring defense in 2011. The season spun out of control quickly. Nothing worked as it was supposed to work, injuries happened to key players at wrong times. You can't blame the coaching staff for everything that went wrong. But 3-9 along with some off-the-field issues with player behavior gave athletic director Pete Garcia the excuse to fire Cristobal, who had just signed an extension after two bowl seasons. Garcia and Cristobal got along like you'd imagine Charlie Sheen and Bill Cosby would.

TT: How does FIU look stack up in Conference USA this year? What are fans' expectations?

DN: FIU's very young and inexperienced. It's hard to see them doing much in Conference USA this year.

TT: Lastly, what's your pick for Saturday afternoon?

DN: Maryland 34, FIU 14.