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FAU: 15 key questions


FAU: 15 key questions

By Ted Hutton
Posted September 8 2004

1. Last year, in just the third season of its existence, FAU made it to the Division I-AA semifinals and finished the season 11-3. Now the Owls have nearly every starter back. Does that mean they will be ranked No. 1 in the country and going for a national title?

Not so fast. Yes, there is plenty to be excited about, and if things had stayed the same, FAU would probably be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in I-AA and have a good shot of claiming the national title. But FAU's ambition has altered that outlook. FAU and coach Howard Schnellenberger wants to move from I-AA to I-A and starts that two-year transition this year. That means the Owls will still be classified as I-AA but are not eligible for a playoff bid and also won't be eligible for a I-A bowl game. Nor can the Owls compete for the Sun Belt Conference title, since they won't officially join the conference until next season.

2. So, even if the Owls went 12-0, they would get nothing out of it?

That's basically it. In its move to I-A, FAU has been allowed to increase its scholarships from the I-AA limit of 63 to the 85 allowed for I-A teams. That would give FAU a competitive advantage over other I-AA teams, and that is why it will not be eligible for the playoffs.

3. So, what is there to play for?

Plenty, and this should be an interesting season. FAU will be getting ready for next year by playing six I-A opponents, beginning with Hawaii. They play five Sun Belt teams, including last year's champion, North Texas. And this team is loaded with experienced players and should give everyone on the schedule a good game. And there is always that late-season game against Florida International, which is in the same situation as FAU, since the Golden Panthers are also moving up to I-A and joining the Sun Belt in 2005.

4. Sounds like more growing pains. How are the Owls going to do this season?

Well, let's go out on a limb and say 9-3 in best-case scenario, meaning no significant injuries and a bit of luck. The Owls were a surprise team last year, going on a 10-game winning streak to make it as far as they did. They have a slew of seniors who have appeared in nearly every game the Owls have played, making FAU the most experienced team in the country. That doesn't mean they can dominate I-A teams, but the Sun Belt is the weakest I-A conference, and five of the I-A games are against Sun Belt teams. They will struggle against Hawaii, North Texas and Troy State, with all those games on the road. Other than that, the Owls would be hard to pick against, even at Middle Tennessee.

5. You said FAU was the most experienced team in the country. How's that work?

This team was started from scratch, with a group of redshirt freshmen who practiced all of 2000 without playing a game, and then were joined by true freshmen when FAU played its first game in 2001. Many of those players are still on the roster, and nearly every one has played in 30 or more games. In all the Owls have 30-plus seniors, so they are deep as well as experienced.

6. The offense finally got on track last year. What's the situation this year?

The offense found its footing last year after struggling the first two years. Expect more big numbers, despite the tougher schedule. Quarterback Jared Allen had a breakout season, throwing for 3,003 yards and 24 touchdowns, more than the combined totals of his first two seasons. Tight end Anthony Crissinger-Hill was Allen's favorite target, with 74 catches for 1,134 yards. A gang of tested and proven running backs also returns, so moving the ball should not be much of a problem. A big key was the improved offensive line.

7. The offensive line lost two starters. Is that going to create a problem?

Center George Guffey will miss the season because of knee surgery, and Ken Campos ran out of eligibility, leaving the offensive line the hardest-hit unit as far as depletion in the starting ranks. But there are bigger and possibly better players ready to fill the void, and no one is too worried about the line. Dave Richards, Chris Shepard and Kevin Fischer are back, and that is plenty enough experience and talent to keep the line from regressing.

8. How about the defense?

The defense lost one starter to graduation but is getting back three starters who missed most of last season with injuries. Add to that an increase in depth at every position, and you have a unit that could dominate games. The only spots up for grabs are in the secondary, where six players who have started will fight for four slots. Jerrell Terry and Christian Amaya are both back after injuries and looking to win back their starting jobs. Defensive lineman Jason Pugh is also back after a knee injury. There are no weak spots on this unit.

9. Now let's get to some specifics. No mystery at quarterback. Jared Allen is it, right?

You got it. Allen is a four-year starter, and he is coming off a career season. He has learned when to throw and when to scramble, as evidenced by his streak of 161 pass attempts without an interception last season. He has an excellent backup in junior Danny Embick, who got a lot of quality time in last season and showed he can fill in for Allen with little drop-off.

10. Allen had plenty of targets to throw to. Are they back?

Right again. No team figured out how to cover Crissinger-Hill last season. And if they concentrated too much on him, Roosevelt Bynes would get open. Same should be true this season. Add to the mix two talented ball catchers who missed all of last season with injuries, and you have even a bigger pool of talent. Dantson Dareus was ahead of Crissinger-Hill on the depth chart when a knee injury ended his season before it began. Former starting wide receiver Thomas Parker was injured in a car accident and also was out all of last year. Both are back and could compete for starting jobs again.

11. How about running back? You said there is a gang, but who leads that gang?

Doug Parker is a senior and has yet to separate himself from the pack. Parker is big, strong and fast. He shared duties with Anthony Jackson and Daveon Barron last season. Dekolan James, who shared time with Parker when both were freshmen in 2001, is also back from an injury and is now in the mix. Parker should get time at fullback and tailback and the plan is to try and get him the ball much more this season.

12. What's up with the defensive backs?

There is plenty of talent, and the starters could change from game to game. Corner Willie Hughley and safety Jerrell Terry are the two sure things. Quincy Skinner and Lawrence Gordon will battle for the other corner spot. Both have been starters. Sophomore Taheem Acevedo looks like the best bet as the other safety. A wild card is sophomore Casey McGahee, who impressed coaches in preseason camp.

13. The Owls have to replace their middle linebacker, right? Isn't that a problem?

Not with Shomari Earls stepping in. Earls, a junior, played in every game last year and got plenty of experience. Earls is big, fast and strong and there will be no drop-off from last year, when Quinten Swain held down the middle. Earls is surrounded by talent. Four-year starters Chris Laskowski and Tyrone Higgins are formidable, and the linebacking unit is probably the strongest on the team on either side of the ball.

14. Let's look at the schedule. Can the Owls survive those first three games?

It is a tough start, no doubt about that. A trip to Hawaii, then it is off to three-time Sun Belt champion North Texas, followed by a return trip to Middle Tennessee, which has revenge on its mind after FAU beat it on a last-second pass last season. Three I-A teams in three weeks, the first two against teams that went to bowl games last year. If FAU can come away 1-2 in that stretch, it will be doing fine. Even if they go 0-3, don't panic. The Owls won't be big underdogs in any of the remaining games and should be favored in most.

15. Now, what is all this fuss about attendance? What's so magic about averaging 15,000 fans per game?

Well, at the moment, FAU will need to average that number in order to continue its move to I-A, according to new rules adopted by the NCAA. If the Owls fall short, and that is a possibility since the Owls averaged 6,909 last year while going 11-3, they could be forced to repeat their first year of transition, delaying their entry into the Sun Belt and chance for a bowl game. The rules are being reviewed, however, and there is a chance the attendance rule could be altered or eliminated by the 2005.

Copyright ? 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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