2011 Florida Atlantic Preview
Florida Atlantic RB Alfred Morris
Florida Atlantic RB Alfred Morris
Posted May 23, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Florida Atlantic Owls

Florida Atlantic Owls

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Howard Schnellenberger
11th year: 56-60
26th year overall: 157-140-3
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 8, Def. 20, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Florida Atlantic Players
1. LB Marcus Bartels, Sr.
2. DE Kevin Cyrille, Sr.
3. LB/DE Cory Henry, Soph.
4. RB Alfred Morris, Sr.
5. LB Yourhighness Morgan, Jr.
6. P Mickey Groody, Sr.
7. LB Randell Johnson, Soph.
8. OT Samuel McRoy, Sr.
9. TE Darian Williams, Sr.
10. WR DeAndre Richardson, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 at Florida
Sep. 10 at Michigan State
Sep. 24 at Auburn
Oct. 1 at Louisiana
Oct. 8 at North Texas
Oct. 15 WKU
Oct. 22 Middle Tenn.
Nov. 5 Arkansas State
Nov. 12 at FIU
Nov. 19 at Troy
Nov. 26 UAB
Dec. 3 ULM

Can the stadium bring a new energy?

Legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger was able to start the program from scratch and he created a nice Sun Belt level team. Just as everything appeared to be coming together, the wins stopped coming, the defense became more of a liability, and the Owls became also-rans.

Part of the problem has been recruiting. Schnellenberger relies on getting a bunch of the good local talents, but FAU is consistently among the worst teams in the nation after all the recruiting rankings come out. Combine that with the rise of local rival Florida International, headed up by an opposite-end-of-the-age-spectrum head coach in Mario Cristobal, and something needs to change.

The biggest problem has been an offense that died in key moments in the 2009 losing season, and didn't show up after the season-opening win over UAB last year. In 2009, FAU finished 5-7, but was 15th in the nation in total offense, 60th in scoring, and 55th in rushing. Last year, the Owl attack was 107th in the nation in yards, 113th in scoring, and 115th in rushing, and now something has to start working and there needs to be a spark.

That's where the new FAU Stadium comes in, giving the program the premier home in the Sun Belt conference with 30,000 seats and all the amenities of a new building. The place should be called Schnellenberger Stadium for all the head coach has done to make this happen for the school, but first, the excitement surrounding the new digs has to mean more wins.

There's a fine line between a good year and a great one for Sun Belt teams, and while 2010 was disastrous, there was a win over FIU and losses to North Texas and ULM could've easily have gone the other way. However, the victories over UAB, Western Kentucky, and Louisiana were all by one point.

But now the Owls get back seven starters on both sides of the ball, there's more speed in the backfield than last season, and there really might be a big home field advantage to rely on. There won't be the rebuilding job needing to be done on offense like last year's team had to deal with, and the defense has as much speed and athleticism and Schnellenberger has had during his tenure.

Can the Owls christen the new building with a season to match the surroundings? This might not be a Sun Belt champion, but the makings are there to be in the hunt for the title all season long, and if nothing else, the team will look big time at home.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback battle. FAU got terrific production out of Rusty Smith, and then Jeff Van Camp took over and did a nice job. Now there's a fight for the starting job. David Kooi and Graham Wilbert are built like NBA small forwards, and they have the big-time arms to go along with their size. The more they can push the ball down the field on a regular basis, but more the running game will finally have some room to move. But first, the coaching staff has to settle on one guy to be the main man. Kooi has a little more talent, but Wilbert has the tools to be great.

What to watch for on defense: The move to a 3-4 alignment. The Owls have never had a slew of big, beefy space-eaters up front to count on, relying more on smallish, quick playmakers who can swarm around the ball. This year the defense will settle into the four linebacker sets to better utilize players like Cory Henry and others who have hybrid skills. The defensive ends still aren't going to be all that big, but now the job of getting into the backfield will fall almost completely on the outside linebackers.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line comes up with a better year. FAU doesn't get too big up front, and that's okay as long as the athleticism makes up for the lack of bulk. Last year, though, the smallish line couldn't keep the quarterbacks clean and did nothing for the ground game. The front five has to find something it does well, and with relatively immobile passers to protect, handling the better pass rushing teams would be a nice start.

The schedule: Since 2005, FAU is 6-19 in September. Last season it started off 1-5, was 0-4 to kick off 2009, and was 1-5 to start the 2008 season. The slow starts come from having to play the bill-paying games against the big boys, and this year isn't any different with road games at Florida, Michigan State, and Auburn to ensure another rough September. Road games at Louisiana and North Texas follow to kick off the Sun Belt schedule, and then finally, on October 15th, the Owls get to kickoff the fun of the new stadium at home against Western Kentucky. The payoff after the rough start comes with five of the final seven games at home, but the battles against the two best teams in the league, FIU and Troy, are on the road in back-to back mid-November dates.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Alfred Morris. The Owls need either Kooi or Wilbert to be the main man, but Morris is the big, tough veteran who should be a steadying force for the offense if the line play is a bit better. Even though the running game didn't do much of anything, Morris was still able to bang out 928 yards and seven touchdowns with some workhorse performances. With a little more help from the rest of the attack, he'll be a 1,000-yard rusher.

Best defensive player: Senior FS Marcus Bartels. Way too small at only 5-9 and 170 pounds, he doesn't look like a big popper and he doesn't have the strength or bulk to be a big hitter, but he's a guided missile when he gets a beat on a ball-carrier. With 216 tackles over the last two seasons, he's a proven veteran and a leader for a changing secondary. If he does more when the ball is in the air, after making two picks and seven broken up passes, he'll deserve to get more looks on All-America lists.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Jimmy Jean & Senior DT Jarvis Givens. The defense wasn't all that bad at times, but it struggled way too much against the better running teams allowing 204 yards per game. That has to stop, and that means Jean and givens have to literally play big. The 290-pound Jean is a true nose tackle with mauling skills as a potential run stopper, but it's the 305-pound Givens who'll be given the first look at the key spot on the inside. He's experienced, but he has to prove he can stay healthy and he has to prove he can consistently produce.

The season will be a success if … FAU wins six games. The key will be to make something positive out of the first five games of the year, all on the road, and there needs to be at least a split against Louisiana and North Texas. Win both, and all of a sudden the Sun Belt title is in play, but anything more than six wins would be a major shocker with too many battles. Beating WKU, Middle Tennessee, and ULM at home will be a must to have any hope of going bowling. Also, it'll be a must to get a win over …

Key game: Oct. 1 at Louisiana. After starting out the year at Florida, Michigan State, and Auburn, the Owls could be beaten up. Even so, it'll be vital to win the Sun Belt opener over the Ragin' Cajuns to turn things around after what'll certainly be a rough start. North Texas the week after is winnable, but the pressure will be on to win in Denton if the Owls start out 0-4.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing Yards per Game: Opponents 203.6 – Florida Atlantic 94.2
- 4th Quarter Scoring: Opponents 114 – Florida Atlantic 53
- Points Per game: Opponents 29.2 – Florida Atlantic 16.8

- 2011 Florida Atlantic Preview | 2011 Florida Atlantic Offense
- 2011 Florida Atlantic Defense | 2011 Florida Atlantic Depth Chart
- Florida Atlantic Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006