COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
C-USA East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Carl Pelini, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Wright | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Rekstis
In the second year of Carl Pelini’s leadership from the sidelines, the coach will turn to a new leader on the field.
Quarterback Graham Wilbert is gone, meaning that the Owls will look to to either senior Melvin German III — who ran the scout team last season due to academic issues — or East Mississippi Community College transfer Jaquez Johnson to operate coordinator Brian Wright’s spread offense. Both are quite a bit faster than Wilbert, so that should help improve an offense that ranked ninth in the Sun Belt last season with 350.7 yards per game.
The other good news is that the new quarterback will have plenty of experienced targets, with second-team All-Sun Belt pick William Dukes returning and speedster DeAndre Richardson back in the mix after missing 2012 due to an ankle injury. Richardson caught 32 passes for 269 yards two years ago.
The bad news? The quarterback may not get a chance to set his feet, unless the offensive line exceeds expectations, something it hasn’t done in recent seasons. DeAndre Williams and Mustafa Johnson appear entrenched at left tackle and center, respectively, but there was a lot of spring shuffling at the other three spots.
Running back Jonathan Wallace, a walk-on who spent a season watching Alfred Morris breaking the school’s rushing record, was a nice surprise last season, and he returns after gaining 673 yards. While not an elite breakaway threat — he averaged only 3.7 yards per carry — Wallace’s ability to move the chains might help keep the quarterbacks upright.
Can the Owls pressure the passer? That’s the question. Defensive end Cory Henry, who showed such promise as a freshman, produced only two sacks last season. Now a senior, he needs to do more, as does a bulked-up Martin Wright on the other side. Both were dynamic in the spring game, although that was against an unsettled offensive line.
Hard-hitting cornerback Keith Reaser returns to anchor the secondary, where there appears to be decent depth.
The linebacking group should be able to endure the absence of leader David Hinds, with Andrae Kirk, Adarius Glanton and Randell Johnson all capable of covering considerable ground. Johnson, a pro prospect, could often line up on the line of scrimmage.
Mitch Anderson, thrust into the placekicking role when Vinny Zaccario abruptly left the team, did not fare well at first, getting three field goal attempts blocked in a three-point, double-overtime loss to South Alabama. He was better thereafter, taking heed of Pelini’s advise to get more loft on his kicks. Anderson returns, as does punter Sean Kelly, who was a bright spot last season.
Prior to replacing program patriarch Howard Schnellenberger, Pelini served as the defensive coordinator for Nebraska. Still, he didn’t inherit anywhere near the same talent that he had in Lincoln, and the progress of the defense proved uneven in 2012. The offense was uneven, too, as Wright was limited in what he could do with Wilbert.
Now Pelini has a few more of his players, bringing in a recruiting class widely regarded as among the best in school history. FAU appears to be moving in the right general direction in some areas — its penalty yardage, for instance, was way down in Pelini’s first season. The out-of-conference schedule, while still including an opener at Miami, isn’t quite as brutal as in 2012, when the Owls faced Georgia and Alabama on the road in consecutive weeks.
Yet the move to Conference USA, a year ahead of schedule, could make the ride bumpy, as could the inexperience at quarterback.