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What should the expectations be for FAU football in 2016?

A manageable schedule with a young team puts expectations all over the place in what will be a critical third season for Charlie Partridge in Boca Raton.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Conference USA Media Poll was announced and Florida Atlantic was picked to finish fourth in CUSA East. Last year, FAU was picked to finish fourth in CUSA East but the buzz around the football program was different.

With senior playmakers on offense, proven leaders on defense, mixed with the amount of talent Charlie Partridge has brought in, the fanbase believed a bowl season was in the making. But youth and a few bad breaks were too much to overcome as FAU finished with another 3-9 season.

This year, the buzz surrounding the program has been understandably tame. Talks of the Owls making a bowl game that were so rampant around campus in Partridge's first two years in Boca Raton have been replaced with a wait-and-see approach.

FAU has routinely been making waves on the trail since Partridge has taken over, and its all but certain he will be the coach next season, even despite a 6-18 record. FAU has always shown a bit of patience with their coaches.

The way FAU has been recruiting the trajectory of the program under Partridge indicates that the program is still going in the right direction. Last week Partridge was able to add four more commitments to an already-stacked 2017 class, a class that is on the verge of being one of the best in the conference.

That's fine for the future of the program, but the focus must be on this season for Partridge and the Owls.

Year three is typically where a breakout season occurs for a new HC with a program. The Owls' youth, which could be an advantage, is also a big weakness, as current roster projections have as many as three seniors on offense and two seniors on defense.

Add in a new offensive coordinator in Travis Trickett, a new starting quarterback (Daniel Parr or Jason Driskel), and a lack of proven playmakers at the receiver position,  and we could see FAU experience growing pains on offense in a year where teams typically see cohesion and growth.

That being said, with a defense led by preseason CUSA Defensive Player of the Year Trey Hendrickson and two other proven playmakers in the secondary in Jalen Young and Ocie Rose, its not a stretch to believe that the defense will be one of the best in CUSA and could lead FAU to their first bowl game since 2008.

S&P+ projects FAU to win 5.9 games this season. With a schedule that features eight teams with a projected S&P rank of 90th or worse and a home slate that features Southern Illinois, Ball State, Charlotte, UTEP and Old Dominion, the case oculd be made that FAU could be playing in a bowl game.

So what should expectations be for year three of the Partridge era?

FAU appears to be one year away from still reaching their potential under Partridge, but a favorable schedule will put a lot of pressure on a young Owls squad to make it to a bowl game. A four-win season could also be just as realistic taking into account the youth of the squad. There will be multiple views this season on whether or not FAU is bowl-ready or still picking up the ropes.

One thing is certain, this time next year there will definitely be some sort of buzz surrounding the program. Whether that buzz surrounds FAU fielding a team capable of being picked to win CUSA East or fans growing tired of a lack of tangible progress in the wins-loss department remains to be seen.