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FAU Owls 2016 Season Preview

After two straight years of enduring close loses, will this be the year FAU gets over the hump and reaches a bowl game?

Marshall v Florida Atlantic Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

In two years FAU has undergone a complete rebranding of its football program. Marketing has improved, recruiting has really improved, fan support is better, and now the trajectory of the program is sky high.

The only thing that has yet to show how far the football program has come is the win column. After back-to-back 3-9 seasons in which FAU’s inexperience and lack of depth was too much to overcome, this year the only hurdle appears to be youth.

But with the way Charlie Partridge and the coaching staff has been recruiting since arriving in Boca Raton three years ago the rebuild is over.

Yes, the team is super young as only a few seniors are projected to be on the week one two-deep depth chart but the talent is there. For the first time FAU has depth at a few positions too.

This is a roster capable of winning at least six games and with this year’s schedule, the Owls should do just that.

Now it’s up to the coaching staff to overcome any mental hurdles that may linger from close loses in the past, get the most of the team, and take FAU to the next step.

Offense Preview

Despite having seniors at key positions last year consistency was a major issue for the offense. As a result new offensive coordinator Travis Trickett will be calling the plays this year and he has a ton of work to do.

The known commodities of Jaquez Johnson and Jenson Stoshak in the passing attack will be replaced by fresh faces, none of which have proved to be reliable.

Jason Driskel will be the starting quarterback. Driskel had his moments last year but for the most part played like a freshman as he completed just 51 percent of his passes for 965 yards, 5.4 yards an attempt, with three touchdowns and four interceptions.

Trickett’s quarterbacks at Samford averaged 11.3 yards per completion with a 70 percent completion rate. Driskel will have to be efficient and accurate, two things he struggled with last year in order for the offense to reach its ceiling.

It serves Driskel well to have a reliable cast of guys to hand the ball to as Greg Howell and Jay Warren both have the potential to be game breakers in the backfield.

Early in the season the Owls may have to feature the rushing attack out of necessity as the receiving options leave a lot to be desired. Kalib Woods, Henry Bussey, Kamrin Solomon, and Nate Terry have all displayed flashes of productivity but have yet to put it together.

Trickett’s Samford offense averaged 34.6 points per game with a premier focus on the passing game. It’s safe to say one of those juniors will have to step up if the offense is to be successful.

Since Howell and Warren have never displayed the receiving skills to be featured in the passing attack we could see Marcus Clark out of the backfield should Trickett want to employ plays that feature the ball in the hands of the halfback.

The offense will go as far as Driskel can take them. If Driskel takes care of the ball the Owls will be in great shape as their defense will keep them in games this year. Despite backup quarterback Daniel Parr coming in with more hype, the reason Driskel won the job could very well be because he limits mistakes. If he does that, the offense will be in good shape.

Defense Preview

After Carl Pelini was let go I thought FAU may take a step back on defense. Man was I wrong. Defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni has done a great job of revamping the passing defense since arriving three years ago.

Preseason CUSA Defensive Player of the Year Trey Hendrickson and Hunter Snyder combined for 18 sacks last year and should continue to be a force.

The secondary is filled with exciting playmakers such as Ocie Rose, Jalen Young, and Herb Miller who will look to take the next step and become lockdown defenders.

The linebackers are also in great shape with Azeez Al-Shaair leading the way. But the question mark on defense is the same question mark in years past. Will the Owls be able to stop the run?

After losing Brandin Bryant and Trevon Coley, the Owls could not afford to lose any more interior linemen and have already lost one as projected starter Ray Ellis has been lost for the season with a knee injury.

That leaves Shalom Ogbonda and Steven Leggett as the only players with experience on the interior line. Unless incoming freshmen William Davis and Kevin McCrary are ready to make the transition from high school ball to taking on FBS linemen, the run defense could be what prevents this defense from taking the next step.

Outlook

This isn’t a now or never season for FAU. The team is young and is probably two years away from peaking. With that said, anything less than five wins would be a major disappointment.

S&P+ projects 5.9 wins for the Owls and with Southern Illinois, Ball State, Charlotte, UTEP, and Old Dominion all visiting Boca Raton, FAU has a good chance of recording their most home wins in a season since calling FAU Stadium home.

For two straight years I thought Charlie Partridge would end FAU’s bowl drought and I’ll make it three years in a row. Despite a questionable passing attack and a worrisome run defense, the schedule is favorable enough for FAU to make their first bowl game since 2008 and I think they will.