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Key Questions for FAU, FIU ......

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Key Questions for FAU, FIU ......

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Key questions for UM, UF, FSU, FIU, FAU

FIU (Camp opens Monday)

1. What is the quarterback situation?

Coach Mario Cristobal has said it is an open competition for the starting job between incumbent Wayne Younger, Paul McCall, Colt Anderson, Darold Hughes and freshman Troy Dannehower. McCall and Anderson have a head start, having practiced and excelled in new offensive coordinator Bill Legg's spread offense in the spring. Younger, who missed spring practice, is fully recovered from a broken collarbone sustained late last season.

2. How different is Legg's spread offense from former coordinator James Coley's offense?

From what was shown in the spring, the quarterback appears to be more mobile. With Legg, who ran the Big Ten's top offense the past two years at Purdue, expect the Golden Panthers to have more formations than what Coley, now the tight ends coach at FSU, ran in 2007. Quarterbacks have said the reads are easier in the new offense.

3. With all the defensive talent in the incoming freshman class, how much will FIU's defense improve?

It depends on how quickly the new defenders adjust to the college level, adapt to the speed of the game and mesh with returning players. The defense certainly will be faster. The secondary should be the unit's strength, with the return of senior safety Marshall McDuffie (suspension), junior safety Jeremiah Weatherspoon (academics) and senior cornerback Robert Mitchell (leg injury).

4. Can FIU have its first 1,000-yard rusher since Rashod Smith ran for 1,133 yards in 2004?

A'mod Ned, Julian Reams and Daunte Owens all certainly have the ability, but a lot depends on them staying healthy and getting improvement from the offensive line. Ned averaged 4.1 yards per rush last season, but the FIU running game averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Freshman running back Darriet Perry, one of Georgia's top prep backs, could make an impact as well. The offensive linemen, freshmen and sophomores last season, are a year older and have had a terrific summer in the weight room, Cristobal said.

5. Will FIU win more than one game in 2008, and what kind of an impact will the new stadium have?

Seventy-seven percent of FIU's roster was made up of freshmen and sophomores last season, so the Golden Panthers are a year wiser and stronger, thanks to Roderick Moore's off-season strength and conditioning program. A little more experience should translate into a few more victories. In five of its last seven games in 2007, FIU was within a touchdown of tying the score in the second half. The new on-campus stadium, with the seats as close as

7 yards from the field, should provide a distinct home-field advantage. Now the Golden Panthers have to win some games to take advantage.


FAU (Camp opens Wednesday)

1. How will FAU handle being the Sun Belt's hunted?

FAU won't be sneaking up on anyone after last season's success, but the wealth of experienced hands should make for a smooth transition. The Owls have 17 starters back,

22 seniors and the continuing affirmation of Howard Schnellenberger, who this week agreed to keep coaching through at least 2010. This actually is the season FAU had been building toward; it just arrived a year early.

2. Is Rusty Smith the state's best quarterback not named Tebow?

Most likely, and maybe the best pure passer – Heisman Trophy owner included. Operating Schnellenberger's pro-style passing attack, Smith racked up six 300-yard games last year and became masterful at distributing the ball. In six of the final seven games, no fewer than four Owls receivers made three catches or more. Although folks might question FAU's Sun Belt opposition, Smith's two most productive days last year were against a Big Ten school (Minnesota) and in the bowl game (Memphis).

3. How will the offense make up for the loss of tight end Jason Harmon?

The Owls took an unexpected hit when Harmon (63 catches, five touchdowns) tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the first play of the spring game. He will take an injury redshirt. Jamari Grant (16 catches in 2007) got most of the work in two-tight-end sets with Harmon, giving him a slight edge. Rob Housler (five catches) is a utility type whose highlight play last year came on a tight-end reverse that went for a 68-yard touchdown against FIU.

4. Who fills the Owls' twin openings at safety?

The loss of free safety Taheem Acevedo and strong safety Kris Bartels is the most glaring void in a defense that returns eight of the other nine starters. Even so, the Owls can call on experience in strong safety Greg Joseph, who started nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2005 and keyed the nickel package last season. Sophomores Ed Alexander and Austin Jensen will compete at free safety, with a combined 12 career tackles between them.

5. Can the Owls slay another nonconference giant?

Let's agree to scratch UAB, a Conference USA bottom-feeder that is universally rated lower than FAU. That would put the bull's-eye back on Minnesota, which was left embarrassed by Smith's 463-yard passing day in

a 42-39 Owls victory last season. More disarray followed in the offseason when the Gophers changed defensive coordinators and booted three top defenders. But this year's game is in Minneapolis, and the memories alone should fire up the Gophers. Michigan State is a longer shot, and upending Texas would generate Appalachian State-type headlines.


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