2014 CFN Preview - Florida Atlantic Owls
Florida Atlantic WR William Dukes
Florida Atlantic WR William Dukes
Posted Jun 3, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Things are looking up for the program - except for the schedule. (Getty Images)

Florida Atlantic Owls

Preview 2014

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By Rich Cirminiello
- 2014 Florida Atlantic Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Charlie Partridge First year: 0-0
Returning Lettermen
Off. 20, Def. 18, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best FAU Players
1. CB D'Joun Smith, Sr.
2. QB Jaquez Johnson, Jr.
3. LB Andrae Kirk, Sr.
4. WR William Dukes, Sr.
5. DT Brandin Bryant, Jr.
6. C Braden Lyons, Sr.
7. SS Damian Parms, Sr.
8. P Sean Kelly, Jr.
9. RB Jay Warren, Soph.
10. FS Christian Milstead, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Nebraska
Sep. 6 at Alabama
Sep. 13 Tulsa
Sep. 20 at Wyoming
Sep. 27 UTSA
Oct. 2 at FIU
Oct. 18 WKU
Oct. 25 at Marshall
Nov. 1 UAB
Nov. 8 at North Texas
Nov. 22 at Middle Tenn
Nov. 29 Old Dominion

After a most unusual season, things are actually looking up for the Owls.

Last year was an odd one for Florida Atlantic, which abruptly fired Carl Pelini on Oct. 30 for non-football reasons, only to rally down the stretch to finish at .500. New head coach Charlie Partridge, who knows the Sunshine State from his many years of recruiting as an assistant, inherits a team that's won four in a row and has a solid base of talent on which to build a little further in 2014.

The 40-year-old Partridge has quickly ascended up the ranks, using stops at Pittsburgh, Wisconsin and Arkansas to become the third head coach in Florida Atlantic history. His first Owl team is going to feature leading men on both sides of the ball, including nine of the 14 players to earn at least honorable mention All-Conference USA in 2013.

The offense will sport a dangerous triggerman, second-year QB Jaquez Johnson, and a veteran big-play target in WR William Dukes. What the Owls now need is more playmakers, especially out of the backfield, to prevent Johnson from shouldering the load on his own. Last year's top rusher and pass-catcher are gone, creating voids that a handful of former backups are hoping to fill this summer.

Defense was a huge surprise in Boca Raton last fall. Florida Atlantic headed up Conference USA in total D, while holding six opponents under 20 points. New coordinator Roc Bellantoni will naturally want to add his own tweaks and formations to the playbook, but he might as well just turn his kids loose in September. Since the Owls have a star at each level, DT Brandin Bryant, LB Andrae Kirk and CB D'Joun Smith, repeating last season's results is where the bar will be set.

Florida Atlantic suffered an unexpected setback in 2013, losing the coach that was supposed to lead the program to perennial stability and prosperity. All things considered, the Owls have rebounded rather well from the Pelini mess. Not only do they believe in Partridge's vision for the future, but the future might be now. FAU is built to compete in the East Division and snap its six-year bowl drought.

What to watch for on offense: Junior Jenson Stoshak will benefit when William Dukes is double-teamed. Dukes is FAU's most dangerous target in the passing game, which will make him a DB magnet. Stoshak is ready to pick up the slack. As a sophomore last season, he came off the bench to catch 23 balls for 298 yards. The former walk-on has packed on close to 20 pounds and improved his route-running to take the lead at "X" receiver. Stoshak is capable of catching 45-50 balls this season as the possession receiver complement to Dukes.

What to watch for on defense: The battle at defensive end. The Owls are set on the interior with Brandin Bryant and Trevon Coley. The edge is a very different story. The graduations of Cory Henry and Martin Wright will force the new staff to mine pass rushers out of the holdovers. Robinson Eugene and Trey Hendrickson are the favorites to start after lettering as members of the 2013 rotation. While Eugene is an every-down player, the 222-pound Hendrickson has the size and the speed of a situational lineman.

This team will be far better if … it defends the run with greater consistency. The Owls were stout on defense a year ago, but no one was happy about yielding 4.4 yards per carry. Yes, the numbers were skewed by visits to Miami and Auburn. But Florida Atlantic also gave up more than 200 yards on the ground Middle Tennessee and Rice, which were both losses. While the team is sound up the middle, it still needs to improve at clogging lanes and preventing yards after contact.

The Schedule: Well this should be fun. Welcome to the 2014 season, Florida Atlantic, now play at Nebraksa and at Alabama to kick things off. After getting the home opener against Tulsa, it's back on the play to Wyoming. If that wasn't enough, there's a run of three home games in four before closing out against Old Dominion. There aren't any real breaks in conference play, either, having to go on the road to deal with Marshall in division play, and needing to face a strong North Texas team on the road from the West to go along with interdivisional games against UTSA and UAB.

Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Jaquez Johnson. Florida Atlantic has a franchise quarterback, and not a moment too soon. In his debut out of junior-college, Johnson led the Owls in rushing, while steadily evolving as a pocket passer. The 6-1, 225-pound bruiser can do it all from behind center, from running over tacklers in the open field to being the vocal leader in the huddle. FAU has its centerpiece of the offense, and it'll have him running the show for the next two seasons.

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB D'Joun Smith. Now that his reputation as a ball-hawk has made its way throughout Conference USA defensive meeting rooms, Smith will cut off half the field for opposing quarterbacks. He'll stick to the other guy's best receiver, forcing passers to check down and survey the field in order to find an open man. That extra second or two that Smith will give to his line could result in a spike in FAU sacks in 2014.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore RB Jay Warren. The offense is liable to take another step forward, but only if balance and diversity can be achieved. Warren is the key to making the Owls very difficult to defend this season. The team is set at quarterback with dual-threat Jaquez Johnson. If Warren can victimize defenses that lock into Johnson, Florida Atlantic could become Conference USA's top attack this side of Huntington, W.V.

The season will be a success if ... the Owls bowl. Florida Atlantic is slowly moving up the Conference USA pecking order. It can really make a statement in 2014 by nabbing one of the league's automatic bowl berths. The road schedule is nasty, highlighted by trips to face Nebraska, Alabama and Marshall. However, the Owls will be competitive in every other game, making bowl-eligibility for the first time since 1998 a realistic pursuit.

Key game: Sept. 13 vs. Tulsa. Barring a historic upset, the Owls are going to be 0-2 following season-opening trips to Lincoln and Tuscaloosa. The goal in September will be to use the first two weeks as learning experiences, but that's only if Florida Atlantic can rebound with a win in its home opener. Seasons hinge on runs and momentum, and FAU can ill-afford to let a rocky first month derail the gains Charlie Partridge's staff has made this offseason.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Passing yards per game: Florida Atlantic 199.2 – Opponents 161.1
- Third-down conversions: Florida Atlantic 40% – Opponents 33%
- Second-half scoring: Florida Atlantic 171 - Opponents 104

- 2014 Florida Atlantic Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players