Between hiring a new coaching staff, local recruiting battles and spring ball, FAU's 2014 season is shaping up to be one of great promise and anxiety. Here are the top five reasons FAU will enjoy success in 2014:
1.) Jaquez Johnson
Redshirt junior Jaquez Johnson transferred from East Mississippi Community College before last season and looked to compete with Melvin German III and Greg Hankerson for the starting quarterback job. Despite initially sharing time with Hankerson, Johnson separated himself as the clear front-runner and brought management to an offense that could barely stay on the field. Four-straight wins to end the season saw Jaquez breakthrough in the hunt for bowl eligibility, registering 11 touchdowns (6 passing, 5 rushing) during that four-game span. Even with back-up Greg Hankerson looking great during Spring ball, this QB competition is Johnson's to lose.
2.) D'Joun Smith
Senior D'Joun Smith burst on to the scene in 2013. Smith started every game for the Owls and intercepted seven passes, including a 75-yard return for a touchdown against USF. The ball-hawking corner ended last season with 35 tackles and a spot on the C-USA All-Conference first team. This breakthrough performance, along with the spring resurgence of Cre'von LeBlanc, should change opposing gameplans.
3.) Meaningful Experience
FAU returns a total of 12 starters for 2014; six on offense and six on the defensive side of the ball. While they did lose two starters to the NFL Draft, and a slew of other impact performers, the Owls do return some big names. William Dukes is back for his senior season and will look to return to his 2012 form that saw him produce 979 yards on 63 receptions. Defensive Tackles Brandin Bryant and Trevon Coley combined for 9.5 sacks last season, and senior linebacker Andrae Kirk should easily replicate his 2013 output during FAU's second season in Conference USA.
4.) Offensive Continuity
When head coach Charlie Partridge was hired in the offseason, many Owl fans wondered what would happen to interim head coach Brian Wright. Partridge, who has never been a head coach before, quickly sought out Wright to keep him on as offensive coordinator. The schemes that put up 151 points in the final four games of 2013 will return, along with a whole new bag of trick plays. Owl fans can anticipate more double QB looks, read-option trickery and end-around reverses utilizing Johnson, DJ Juste, and Lucky Whitehead.
Conference USA has secured six bowl bids for 2014, including potential trips to the Bahamas and Hawaii. With those six bids locked in, the conference is potentially looking at sending all bowl-eligible teams to a game in December. The Owls could realistically go 2-2 in non-conference play leaving room for a 4-4 split against C-USA teams. FAU brings a few tough opponents in UTSA and Old Dominion to Boca Raton.