The Florida Atlantic Owls are coming off a rocky 6-6 season, in which their former coach, Carl Pelini, was forced to resign, then he un-resigned and then was fired. After his departure, the Owls won their final four games, beginning with a 34-17 mauling of the Tulane Green Wave. New head coach Charlie Partridge will seek to create some stability for the Owls in his first season, but improving on their .500 record from may take a little more time.
Quarterback Jacquez Johnson led the Owls in passing and rushing last season, and will face high expectations in his second year as the starter. Johnson is still developing as a passer, but he seemed to take a major leap forward near the end of last season. In the Owls’ last two games, Johnson completed 61 percent of his passes for 531 yards, six touchdowns and only two interceptions. His ability to run the ball already made Johnson a dangerous weapon for FAU, but if he continues to develop as a passer, the Owls’ offense could be among the best in Conference USA in 2014.
The star of the FAU defense is cornerback D’Joun Smith, who defended 20 passes last season and snagged seven interceptions. With veteran safeties Damian Parms and Christian Milstead joining Smith, the Owls’ secondary should be excellent this season.
The problem that the defense might face will be in the front seven. The secondary was assisted by a strong pass rush last season, and FAU lost a number of key players who excelled at getting to the quarterback, including defensive ends Cory Henry and Martin Wright. At linebacker, the Owls return leading tackler Andrae Kirk, but lose Adarius Glanton and Randell Johnson, who combined for five sacks and almost 90 tackles last season.
Florida Atlantic may be an improved team in 2014, but the schedule may make it difficult for them to significantly improve on their 6-6 record from a year ago. The Owls have the misfortune of opening the season with consecutive road games against the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Alabama Crimson Tide. The schedule eases after that, with games against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and Wyoming Cowboys, but there are few sure things.
Florida Atlantic will have to hit the road to take on the Marshall Thundering Herd, Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders and North Texas Mean Green, three teams that finished with better conference records than FAU last season. Games against the UAB Blazers, Florida International Golden Panthers and UTSA Roadrunners are all winnable, and FAU should not be counted out against the rest of Conference USA yet, but their best opportunity to win a conference title may still be a season away.