Florida Atlantic head coach Carl Pelini had a few words with the referees during the game against North Texas. (Jim Rassol, Sun Sentinel. / September 29, 2012)
Orlando Sentinel college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 111: FAU
Coach: Carl Pelini (3-9, second season; 3-9 overall)
2012 record: 3-9 (2-6 in Sun Belt Conference, ninth in Sun Belt)
Look back: In its first season under coach Carl Pelini, the Owls staggered after a season-opening win against FCS-program Wagner. A six-game losing streak included a 56-20 loss at SEC power Georgia and 40-7 loss to eventual national champion Alabama, but it also featured losses to Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama and North Texas. The defense allowed 30 points or more in seven of 12 games. The offense did not score more than 20 points until the seventh week of the season, but then it showed some progress, averaging 28 points per game in the final six contests.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 8
Defensive starters lost: 3
Key losses: QB Graham Wilbert, DB Brent Harstad, LB David Hinds, OL Andy Czuprynski
Top returnees: WR William Dukes, TE Nexon Dorvilus, RB Jonathan Wallace, LB Randell Johnson, DB Cre'von Leblanc
Strengths: FAU is stacked at the linebacker position, going five deep on the depth chart. Randell Johnson has an NFL body and, if he develops strong technique, he can be a Sunday-afternoon player. Andrae Kirk and Freedom Whitfield can be impact players. There's depth at wide receiver, though William Dukes is the clear-cut star of the unit. Defensive line has gone from weak to feared. The group is led by DE Martin Wright. Leading rusher Jonathan Wallace returns, though he averaged less than four yards per carry and must find his way behind a questionable line.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience at quarterback will be a problem in 2013. Melvin German has the inside track for the starting job, but academic issues have been a problem for him during his FAU tenure. The offensive line is patchwork at best — it could see an undersized true freshman summer enrollee, Austin Bland — start at guard. Only two offensive line starters return from a unit that wasn't exceptional last season. The Owls ranked 98th in the country in total offense last season and 105th in scoring offense.
Outlook: The Owls open their first season in Conference USA with five of their first six games on the road, no easy task for any team. The list includes games at Miami, East Carolina and USF. How they can manage that first half of the season may set the tone for how the team fares in the second year under Pelini. The offense, which ranked 107th in rushing and 60th in passing in 2012, must be better in its second season in the system to ease the pressure on the defense. That offense did improve as the season went on in 2012, but it needs build on the progress with a new starting quarterback.
Aug. 30 at Miami
Sept. 5 at East Carolina
Sept. 14 at USF
Sept. 21 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 28 at Rice
Oct. 5 at UAB
Oct. 12 Marshall
Oct. 26 at Auburn
Nov. 2 Tulane
Nov. 16 at Southern Miss
Nov. 23 New Mexico St.
Nov. 29 FIU
Dieter Kurtenbach contributed to this report. email@example.com.