Since Lane Kiffin has arrived there has been a massive influx of talent entering the FAU football program by way of transfers. Whether from the JUCO ranks, or coming over from a Power Five school, FAU has become #SecondChanceU to a lot of players.
But which of these players will FAU have to rely on the most in order to make the Lane Kiffin hype become a reality this season? Here’s five players who the Owls absolutely need to produce if they are to return to their first bowl game since 2008.
1. Jeremiah Taleni, Defensive Tackle
Jeremiah Taleni played at Pittsburgh last season, starting three games for the Panthers last season, racking up 24 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Taleni played extremely well in Pitt’s upset win over eventual national champion Clemson. To me Taleni is the safest bet in becoming a contributor this fall as I expect him to be on the All-C-USA Team at season’s end. At 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, expect Taleni to be a starter in the opener against Navy. His presence will go a long way in whether the Owls will improve their rushing defense.
2. De’Andre McNeal, Wide Receiver
The 6-foot-1, 236 pound receiver chose FAU over UCLA on National Signing Day hoping to immediately crack the receiver rotation and since dressing for fall camp he has. Although Kamrin Solomon was surprisingly reinstated last week, FAU desperately needs a go-to receiver to emerge with Kalib Woods still suspended indefinitely from the team and the former Texas Longhorn possesses the size and talent to be that guy. McNeal caught 42 passes for 640 yards and six touchdowns at Fullerton Community College last year.
3. Ernest Bagner, Defensive End
Perhaps you’re sensing a theme here with another transfer on defensive line making the list. There’s a huge void at defensive end now that 2016’s Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Trey Hendrickson is on the New Orleans Saints. The Owls need a pass rusher. Badly. Ernest Bagner has acquitted himself well since joining the roster and appears destined to start along the defensive line once conference play starts.
At 6-foot-3 and 225-pounds, Bagner has displayed the ability to play well against the pass and run during practice. Last season at Riverside City College, Bagner recorded 11 tackles for loss to go with six sacks.
4. Kain Daub, Defensive End/Linebacker
The former four-star recruit and Florida State player was added to FAU’s roster about a week ago. Daub has the athleticism and size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) to become an immediate contributor in Chris Kiffin’s defense. In Kiffin’s 4-2-5 defense, a linebacker having versatility is paramount for success.
Azeez Al-Shaair is the only sure starter at the other linebacker spot right now but he’s been battling injuries this fall camp. Khantrell Burden and Hosea Barnwell have fared well, especially Burden, but both lack Daub’s physical talent. Daub’s addition bolsters the depth but given his late arrival it’ll probably take some time for him to grasp the playbook.
5. De’Andre Johnson, Quarterback
Johnson is the key to FAU maximizing their explosive offense in 2017. But from spring camp to now, De’Andre Johnson has sadly regressed. When he arrived in the spring, many Owl fans figured it would be a formality before Johnson was named the starting quarterback but now things look dicey.
The former Florida State quarterback has the talent to succeed in what looks to be an ideal offense for him but he has yet to put everything together. Consistency has been a huge issue. But injuries are now becoming a factor for the junior too. Johnson has missed a few practices due to injury and has seen valuable first-team reps go to Driskel and Daniel Parr. At the moment it’s anyone’s guess whether or not Johnson will live up to the hype this season.