From the Bird’s Nest: Florida Atlantic – Vagabonds No More
(This is the fifth in a series previewing Louisiana's 2011 opponents. Today: Florida Atlantic)
FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWLS
Location: Boca Raton, FL
Stadium: FAU Stadium (30,000)
2010 Record: 4-8 (3-5)
Coach: Howard Schnellenberger
Record at FAU (57-63) 11th season
Overall Record: (157-140-3) 27th season
Last meeting with Louisiana: 2010 FAU 24, Louisiana 23
When Howard Schnellenberger was named to start Florida Atlantic's football program, he had a vision.
Compete at the FCS level. Move to the FBS. Win championships. Go to bowl games. And, most importantly, help raise the money for an on-campus stadium.
The seemingly tireless 77 year old head coach started the FAU program and reached the FCS semifinals before the move to the FBS. The Owls won the league title in 2007 and appeared in bowl games in 2007 and 2008, winning both times.
And now, finally, FAU will move into its own digs this fall.
After spending a decade as an orphan playing at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, FAU will move into their ocean-view 30,000 seat stadium on October 15th when they face Western Kentucky. It will be a crowning achievement for Schnellenberger who had to sell the administration, the faculty, the students and most importantly, the benefactors of the program on the idea of a permanent home for FAU football.
But while the Owls will finally have a home of their own, their on-field product has work to do.
FAU was 4-8 a season ago and three of their wins were by a single point. Their best win was against arch-rival and league co-champion FIU, 21-9. There was no question the biggest issue for FAU was their offense. They eclipsed thirty points only once, in the season opener against UAB, and hit twenty points two other times.
And, their offense is going to be an issue again.
The Owls lost quarterback Jeff Van Camp, and, going into the fall, there is no clear cut choice to replace him. Redshirt juniors Graham Wilbert (6-6, 225) and David Kooi (6-7, 210) are slightly ahead of two other challengers for the job. The two combined to throw only seven passes a year ago.
The lack of experience under center will be magnified by the lack of experience at wide receiver. DeAndre Richardson caught 12 passes as a redshirt freshman a year ago. He is the only wideout on the FAU roster who has ever caught a pass in a college game. Redshirt freshman Marcus Cunningham showed promise in the spring.
Tight end Rob Housler, a third round pick of Arizona in the spring NFL draft, is gone as well. Senior Darian Williams (6-3, 225) has 23 career catches as Housler's backup and will get most of the work at tight end this season.
The news is better at running back, where Alfred Morris returns for his third season as the starting tailback. Morris has gained 2,320 yards the past two seasons, including ten games of 100 yards or mroe. The Owls are 7-3 when Morris rushes for at least 100 yards. Xavier Stinson returns as the fullback in the Owls pro-style offense. Stinson is a solid blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
The biggest issue for FAU a year ago was the play of the offensive line, which allowed an appalling 36 sacks in 2010. Only Lousiana allowed more in the league. The struggles meant that FAU was in the bottom ten in the FBS in rushing offense and scoring. The good news is all five starters return on the line for FAU. There is plenty of room for improvement.
Defensively, FAU will shift to a 3-4 alignment this season. And, their front seven should be pretty solid. Defensive end Kevin Cyrille anchors the Owls' defense. He's in his third season as a starter. Tackle Jarvis Givens (6-3, 305) should be a force at the tackle spot. The linebackers have experience. Cory Henry moves from end to outside linebacker. He led the Owls in sacks last season. Inside linebackers David Hinds and the best name in college football, Yourhighness Morgan are back.
The question for FAU lies in the secondary. Free safety Marcus Bartels is back after earning second-team all-league honors last season. But the other three spots are up for grabs. FAU led the league in pass defense last year. The new starters will have to grow up in a hurry to come close to that this season.
The punting job is in good hands, with senior Mickey Groody returning. Groody was a first team all-conference pick last season after leading the league with a 45.7 average, including a third of his punts traveling 50 yards or more. The placekicking job is open and might go to a freshman.
FAU, as usual, plays a brutal non-conference schedule. And this year, they travel for their first five games. Tilts at Florida, Michigan State and Auburn almost insure FAU will be 0-3 when they visit Cajun Field in October. Another road contest at North Texas precedes the home opener. In the league, FAU must also travel to FIU and Troy.
Outlook: Schnellenberger is in the final year of his contract and it's very possible this could be his last hurrah as the FAU coach. But he's accomplished everything he's set out to do when he took the job. My guess is it's going to be another tough year on the field for the Owls. FAU has won five of the six meetings with the Cajuns. This will be one of the few times Louisiana will take the field as a favorite in 2011.