After back-to-back 3-9 seasons in which FAU appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough many believed that 2016 would be the year FAU would take a step forward.
Depending on your point of view you can certainly make the case that happened. In a season that featured historical defeats, heartbreaking losses and some of the worst defensive performances in school history, FAU has somehow maintained their trajectory of a program on the rise despite another 3-9 season in large part due to new head coach Lane Kffin.
With a new era in FAU football on the horizon I look back at how exactly we came to this point of being disappointed of what 2016 yielded and why we should be optimistic about what the future holds for FAU football.
S&P+: 27.8 (75th)
Points per game: 26.4 (80th)
Offense MVP: Devin Singletary
To see the Owls finishing the season having averaged only 26 points per game shows just how bad this unit performed early in the season.
In the first six games FAU averaged 22 points per game. In their final four games FAU was averaging 39 points per game.
First-year offensive coordinator Travis Tricket brought in his vaunted #NoHuddleNoMercy offense and stumbled out of the gates but the offense really caught fire to end the year.
In his first season as the starting quarterback Jason Driskel passed for 2415 yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The highlight of his season came against UTEP as he threw the game-winning touchdown to Nate Terry to knock the Miners out of bowl contention.
Driskel’s play at the quarterback position could be attributed to how many injuries were suffered on the offensive line as the Owls used at least 11 different combinations on the offensive line this year.
The receivers also didn’t do him any favors. Aside from Kalib Woods who had a breakout junior season with 68 catches and 934 yards, no other receiver finished with more than 25 catches.
As abysmal the passing attack was this year, the rushing attack was phenomenal. True freshman Devin Singletary (former Illinois commit) finished with a team-high 1016 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Buddy Howell had a team-high 13 touchdowns with 833 yards.
Singletary broke the school record for rushing yards in a game with 257 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns against Rice.
He added a different dynamic to the offense with his speed to go with Howell’s ability to run between the tackles and was also a threat out of the backfield as a receiver.
After Trey Rodriguez bursted onto the scene in his freshman season only to be dismissed earlier in the year, Singletary stepped right up to keep the Owls tradition of great play from the running back position.
Unfortunately due to the uneven play at the quarterback position FAU was one dimensional all year. With Deandre Johnson set to be in the fold we could see a new quarterback leading the Owls next year.
Grade: C -
S&P+: 41.5 (128th)
Points per game allowed: 39.8 (122nd)
Defense MVP: Trey Hendrickson
Entering the season the defense was heralded as the strongest unit of the team. By season’s end advanced stats deemed FAU to have the worst defense in the country.
Trey Hendrickson finished with a team-high 9.5 sacks. With Hendrickson commanding double teams, no one else was able to register more than two sacks. The defense couldn’t get to the quarterback but they also couldn’t stop the run either.
The season finale against Middle Tennessee was the worst of many awful performances by the defense as they allowed the Blue Raiders to score 77 points with 495 rushing yards.
The embarrassing loss to MTSU is probably the reason why FAU essentially has a new coaching staff now. Roc Bellantoni’s defense was solid prior to this year. With a two deep that had freshmen and sophomores all over the field in 2015 the defense ranked 74th in S&P+ and allowed 28.8 points per game.
With more experience the defense drastically underperformed. Preseason All-Conference USA players Ocie Rose and Jalen Young were expected to be stalwarts in the secondary and instead were pretty much nonexistent this year. FAU ranked 126th in Passing Success Rate and 127th in Passing S&P+.
Shalom Ogbonda and Hendrickson are the only noteworthy players who won’t be back on defense next year. New defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin will have a unit full of talented playmakers in the back end that woefully underachieved this year mixed with a young front seven.
Despite the sporadic play of the offense and an abysmal defense FAU was a few bounces away from finishing 7-5. If the defense batts down Charlotte’s Hail Mary that’s a win. If the defense got one more stop against FIU that would be a win.
I could go on forever but you get the point. The Charlie Partridge era will be looked at as a series of what if’s as the Owls simply lost too many coin flip games with him as the head coach.
The cupboard isn’t bare at FAU. They’re close. Lane Kiffin will inherit a talented roster that will be hungry to take the next step.
Given the hype surrounding the former Florida State quarterback FAU’s offense could really takeoff next year if Deandre Johnson wins the job.
Howell and Singletary return in the backfield. The receiving unit has underachieved but with Woods’ emergence last year FAU has a clear number one receiver. The offensive line was riddled with injuries but it gave players plenty of experience.
With Johnson’s ability as a dual-threat quarterback we could see the offense reach a new level in Kendal Briles’ spread offense.
The future is bright. At least for the offense.
Defensively we could see the Owls transition away from the 4-2-5 defense that Carl Pelini brought and Charlie Partridge decided to keep. Due to how inexperienced the front seven looks right now it’s tough to determine if things will get a whole lot better. Linebackers Azeez Al-Shaair and Nate Ozdemir will be the faces of a unit in transition.
But after three straight frustrating 3-9 seasons in which football in paradise was being played in obscurity that will no longer be the case. With Lane Kiffin as the head coach the spotlight will be on FAU for the majority of his tenure, good or bad.
It’s clear now more than ever before that the administration wants to make FAU a football school with Kiffin’s arrival. With the Schmidt Family Complex ground breaking set to take place on January 20th a new era of FAU football is on the brink of taking place.
Whether it’s one full of joy or continued agony remains to be seen, but with Kiffin’s theatrics it’s definitely going to provide great theater.