FIU Face Challenges, Opportunities in 2013Golden Panthers Look to Elusive Sun Belt TitleTransfer Talent Looks to Help Transition on both sides of the Ball After a stellar 11-2 season, Golden Panther Head Coach Baron is looking for FIU to continue its winning ways and make a conference championship their primary focus. "I think that with all the success we've had, we still haven't gotten that Sun Belt title, and that's really important to us." Despite an 11-2 effort last season, the Golden Panthers failed to earn a conference title. "The late loss against Troy was the hardest to bear, just had too many things go wrong." Key wins included Western Kentucky, Georgia, and Tennessee. College football observers are not making much of the Golden Panthers, leaving them out of the top 25, despite FIU finishing 13th in the polls last season, after defeating a previously one loss Miami University squad. "I understand why they're doing it, we had a ton of talent move on, and we're installing a new defensive system to boot." Coach Baron talked about the transition to the 3-4 defensive scheme saying, "When I got here, and last year as well, the talent, I think, was better suited to a four man front. And as a coach you have to work with your personnel. But I think this year we have the talent to move to my preferred, natural scheme, of the 3-4." Key to that transition will be transfer DT Brandon Dunn (89 OVR, 85 STR, 88 Power Move, 89 Block Shedding). The 6-3, 288 lb redshirt Junior will be key to anchoring the front for the Golden Panthers. "He's been phenomenal in practice and I'm expecting big things from him." The DE positions also bring experience and senior leadership as well. But in order for the FIU defense to have success, the Linebacking corp will need to grow up fast. "Losing Will (Fraser, MLB) and the rest doesn't make things easy, but hopefully our front can keep them relatively clean." The secondary also saw a "huge loss" in the graduation of Senior All-American Free Safety Jonathon Cyprien. "He was everything last year. Came up and stopped the run, brought the pressure off our zone blitzing schemes, and was just a great ball hawk last season." But like the front 7, the secondary has one other stalwart to rely on, in pre-season All-American Corner Jose Cheeseborough. The Senior CB had a "stellar, out of his mind," season last year. Picking off 11 passes, returning one for a score. "He'll be key for us to slow down opponents' passing attacks." The offense is also undergoing some transition but benefits from some key returners as well. "Having Jake back is big." Jake Medlock had a "bit of a problem" in turning the ball over, with 22 INTs, but had a great 25 tosses for scores. "He was much bigger for us than those stats indicate. 2609 yards passing doesn't tell you how many of those yards came on 3rd down and in crunch time." Medlocks stats are even more impressive given the running nature of HC Baron's scheme. "Thankfully we aren't transitioning in our offensive scheme either." The Golden Panthers will continue their multiple offensive set, utilizing the shotgun zone read with a power running game out of the I. But their leading rusher from last year, Darrian Mallary (1617 yards, 17 TDs) suffered from a rash of off the field problems during the offseason, including a suspension for a fight at a strip club in which Mallary was found outside later battered and covered in cheese whiz. "Darrian has gone through the appropriate community service and counseling programs and is ready to rejoin the team," a clearly upset Coach Baron said. But the incident (along with another one at a local Toys R' Us) may have cost the preseason All-American his starting job. Junior (RS) Transfer HB Storm Johnson may have slipped ahead of Mallary on the depth charts. "Storm is a phenomenal back. He's got the speed (95) quickness (99 Acc), and ability to make cuts (93 agility) to make guys miss (84 Elusiveness, 91 spin, 91 juke). But he has way more power than people would think (85 stiff arm, 92 trucking, 89 break tackle)." Johnson will likely have to produce right from the get go as the top three receivers for FIU graduated. Only 3 of touchdowns of Medlock's 25 remain on this season's squad. The Golden Panthers are exploring having Mallary play at WR to help the transition. All in all, it looks to be an exciting year in Miami, as the Golden Panthers look to continue to improve under Head Coach Frank Baron.