2007 Florida Atlantic Owls

Posted Dec 31, 2007

2007 Florida Atlantic Owls Season, Game Recaps, Scores and Reviews

2007 Florida Atlantic Owls

Recap: Bar none, the Owls were the story in the Sun Belt in 2007, delivering a bunch of school-firsts under Howard Schnellenberger, led by their first league championship and first bowl game.  Battle-tested by a rugged schedule and led by the deft passing of Rusty Smith, Florida Atlantic went 6-1 in the league, regularly finding ways to overcome a gambling defense that allowed 33 points a game.  The turning point for the fledgling program came on Dec. 1, when the Owls upset conference favorite Troy in Alabama to win the league title.      

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Rusty Smith

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Frantz Joseph

Biggest Surprise: Only one team from Florida won a bowl game this year, and its home is in Boca Raton.  While Florida, Florida State, South Florida, and UCF were losing, Florida Atlantic was making history in the New Orleans Bowl, upsetting Memphis, 44-27, in the Owls' first experience in the postseason.   

Biggest Disappointment: As good as the Owls were at home this year, beating Minnesota and testing South Florida, they did lose to UL-Monroe on Oct. 27, their only conference loss of the year.  In a three-overtime marathon, the Warhawks prevailed on a Calvin Dawson touchdown run from 31 yards out.  

Looking Ahead: By Sun Belt standards, Florida Atlantic is a locomotive these days, looking to capitalize on the success of last year with deeper recruiting classes and more support at the turnstiles.  The return of Smith and his top 10 pass-catchers from 2007 mean the Owls will be playing as the league favorite in 2008.

- 2007 FAU Preview
2006 FAU Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record:

Sept. 1 Middle Tenn W 27-14
Sept. 8 at Oklahoma St L 42-6
Sept. 15 Minnesota W 42-39
Sept. 22 at No Texas W 30-20
Sept. 29 at Kentucky L 45-17
Oct. 6
South Florida L 35-23
Oct. 20 at UL Laf. W 39-32 OT
Oct. 27
UL Mon L 33-30 3OT
Nov. 10 Arkansas St W 34-31
Nov. 17 at Florida L 59-20
Nov. 24
at FIU W 55-23
Dec. 1 at Troy W 38-32
New Orleans Bowl
Dec. 21 Memphis W 44-27

Dec. 1
Florida Atlantic 38 ... Troy 32
Florida Atlantic won the Sun Belt title and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl by forcing three turnovers and getting two second half touchdown passes from Rusty Smith. DiIvory Edgecomb started out the scoring with a one-yard run, and Willie Rose ran for a 41 yard touchdown, but Troy kept the pressure on with four Greg Whibbs field goals in the first half and two Omar Haugabook touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The Trojans pulled within six on a 14-yard Gerald Tate catch with 4:25 to play, and then held as Troy got to the Owl 30 in the final minute before sputtering out.
Player of the game: Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith completed 23 of 34 passes or 291 yards and two touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 23-34, 291 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: Charles Pierre, 19-60, 1 TD. Receiving: Cortez Gent, 8-155, 1 TD
Troy - Passing: Omar Haugabook, 35-47, 265 yds, 2 TD
Omar Haugabook, 23-86. Receiving: Gary Banks, 8-75

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... From nothing to the Sun Belt title and a bowl game. This has been an amazing job done by Howard Schnellenberger and his staff to create a program good enough to play at such a high level in the clutch. This hasn't exactly been a consistent year, but with the emergence of Rusty Smith, the offense has turned into one good enough to pounce on mistakes. Troy screwed up, FAU didn't, and now the Owls are off to the New Orleans Bowl.

Nov. 24
Florida Atlantic 55 ... Florida International 23
Rusty Smith threw four touchdown passes two as part of a wild 28-point second quarter highlighted by a 69-yard scoring play to Cortez Gent and a 68-yard touchdown run from Rob Housler. FIU scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to make the score cosmetically closer, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Owls also put up 20. Amod Ned scored twice for the Golden Panthers with a 32-yard run, and with 35 seconds to play, a three-yard catch. FAU outgained FIU 571 yards to 377.
Player of the game: Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith completed 20 of 30 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns with an interception.
Stat Leaders: Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 20-30, 330 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Charles Pierre, 11-86. Receiving: Jason Harmon, 5-70
Florida International - Passing: Paul McCall, 23-35, 181 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Amod Ned, 10-68, 1 TD. Receiving: James Rucker, 6-52

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
The Owls did what they needed to do to get by the rivalry date with FIU and now can focus on the task at hand: Troy. A win next week means a Sun Belt title and a trip to face Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl, but to get it, the defense has to be tighter than it was against the Golden Panthers and the penalties have to slow down. Committing ten for 94 yards was an issue, and since Troy turns the ball over, and FAU will likely win the turnover battle, keeping the mistake to a minimum could mean a win.

Nov. 17
Florida 59 ... Florida Atlantic 20
Florida got up to a quick 21-0 lead  on a Kestahn Moore nine-yard run, a blocked punt for a score, and a four-yard catch from Cornelius Ingram, but Florida Atlantic made things extremely interesting with a 20-point third quarter helped by a Rusty Smith 20-yard touchdown pass to Cortez Gent and a one-yard Smith run. A Tim Tebow 26-yard scoring pass to Ingram with nine seconds to play in the first half started a run of 31 unanswered points. With a five-yard touchdown run, Tebow set the record for SEC rushing touchdowns with 20.
Player of the game: Florida RB Tim Tebow completed 25 of 34 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 11 times for 31 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 18-33, 290 yds, 1 TD
Rushing: Charles Pierre, 9-33. Receiving: Cortez Gent, 6-118, 1 TD
Florida - Passing: Tim Tebow, 25-34, 338 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Cameron Newton, 6-46, 1 TD. Receiving: Andre Caldwell,
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Owls were never going to beat Florida, but they did come up with a nice second quarter when the offense got moving and Rusty Smith got on a roll. Even in the blowout, the receiving corps, particularly Cortez Gent, had a nice day. The second half was all Florida with the FAU defense unable to handle the Gator speed, but there won't be that problem against FIU or Troy to close out.

Nov. 10
Florida Atlantic 34 ... Arkansas State 31
FAU rallied from down 11 in the fourth with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Rusty Smith to Willie Rose, and then DiIvory Edgecomb gave the Owls the lead for good on a six-yard scoring pass. ASU got Reggie Arnold touchdowns from 15, two and four yards out and a six-yard Corey Leonard run on the way to a 31-20 lead, but the offense couldn't get back on the board late.
Player of the game: Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith completed 22 of 42 passes for 268 yards for three touchdowns and two interception, and ran 14 times for 52 yards.
Stat Leaders: Arkansas State - Passing: Corey Leonard, 19-33, 131 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Reggie Arnold, 14-58, 2 TD. Receiving: Levi Dejohnette, 7-37
Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 22-42, 268 yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Charles Pierre, 14-52. Receiving: DiIvory Edgecomb, 5-49, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Owls kept the Sun Belt title hopes alive with the thrilling win over Arkansas State, and not it just needs to get by FIU before it can deal with Troy. First, they have to play Florida in Gainesville, and while it's an obvious mismatch, if Rusty Smith can start bombing early on the suspect Gator secondary, things could get interesting. Smith had to take on the offense with the running game struggling yet again, but still FAU is two Sun Belt wins away from going to New Orleans.

Oct. 27
UL Monroe 33 ... Florida Atlantic 30 3OT
Calvin Dawson ran for a 31-yard touchdown in the third overtime to answer Warley Leroy's third field goal of the game. The Owls forced overtime with a rally from ten down in the final seven minutes, getting a 36-yard Leroy field goal and with just over a minute to play, a one-yard Charles Pierre touchdown run. Neither team could get on the board in the first overtime and the two traded field goals in the second. The two teams traded scores all game long with Kinsmon Lancaster throwing for two ULM scores and FAU getting two short scoring runs and a one-yard touchdown pass from Rusty Smith.
Player of the game: UL Monroe RB Calvin Dawson ran 26 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and caught five passes for 26 yards
Stat Leaders: UL Monroe - Passing: Kinsmon Lancaster, 22-35, 182 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Calvin Dawson, 26-114, 2 TD. Receiving: Kenneth Zacharie, 6-69, 1 TD
Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 35-54, 317 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Charles Pierre, 17-73, 1 TD. Receiving: Cortez Gent, 11-142

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... FAU couldn't afford a letdown like the one against UL Monroe. The Owls came up with a nice comeback to force overtime, but they didn't take advantage of all their chances throughout the game and they got burned. The run defense was better this week considering it was dealing with Calvin Dawson and the rumbling Warhawk ground game, but it's going to have to be a whole bunch better to beat Arkansas State in the home finale next week. Rusty Smith might not be razor-sharp, but he's proving to be a star to build around.

Oct. 20
Florida Atlantic 39 ... UL Lafayette 32 OT
Rusty Smith threw four touchdown passes, including a 17-yarder to Cortez Gent with seven seconds to play to force overtime, and then Charles Pierre ran for a one-yard score to put the Owls ahead. ULL stalled on its overtime drive, and FAU escaped. The Ragin' Cajuns overcame a 17-9 second half deficit with a blocked field goal for a touchdown from Jarrett Jones and touchdown runs from Chance Roberson and Michael Desormeaux, with a 32-yard dash giving them a 32-25 lead with a minute remaining, but Smith was too hot, going 64 yards in five plays to keep the game alive. ULL ran for 317 yards, FAU threw for 308.
Player of the game: Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith completed 26 of 45 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns
Stat Leaders: Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 26-45, 308 yds, 4 TD
Rushing: Charles Pierre, 16-93, 1 TD. Receiving: Cortez Gent, 5-82, 1 TD
UL Lafayette - Passing: Michael Desormeaux, 14-24, 121 yds, 1 INT
Michael Desormeaux, 23-145, 2 TD. Receiving: Derrick Smith, 7-75

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Yeah, the run defense wasn't close against UL Lafayette two weeks after getting rumbled on by South Florida, but with Rusty Smith bombing away with seven touchdown passes in his last two games, the Owls have found their star. No one in the Sun Belt can bomb like FAU, with the possible exception of Troy, and with this win, the Sun Belt title dreams are still there. Now if the only the linebackers could come up with a big play.

Oct. 6
South Florida 35 ... Florida Atlantic 23
The final score wasn't quite indicative of how close USF came to blowing it. The Bulls turned it over four times, but got a huge day from RB Benjamin Williams, who scored from five, nine, and 54 yards out before finally putting it away with a nine-yard run with 29 seconds to play. FAU hung tough with Rusty Smith throwing three touchdown passes, highlighted by a 47-yard play to DiIvory Edgecomb late in the fourth to pull within five. USF outgained FAU 302 yards to 152 on the ground, but only 424 yards to 411 overall.
Player of the game: South Florida RB Benjamin Williams ran for 186 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries, catching a pass for nine yards.
Stat Leaders: South Florida - Passing: Matt Grothe, 17-27, 122 yds, 1 INT
Rushing: Benjamin Williams, 25-186, 4 TDs. Receiving: Amari Jackson, 6-60
Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 23-47, 259 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Willie Rose, 10-59. Receiving: Jason Harmon, 7-82, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Owls might have lost to South Florida, but it has to be happy with the way it played. The defense showed the great strides it's made, even though the Bulls ran wild, while Rusty Smith held up well under the pressure. Now the team has to take this momentum from the close call into the Sun Belt play. If it plays like it did this week, there won't be any worries against anyone in the league until the season ender at Troy.

Sept. 29
Kentucky 45 ... Florida Atlantic 17
Andre Woodson threw five touchdown passes, with two to Dicky Lyons, and Micah Johnson returned an interception for a score, as UK rolled after the first 20 minutes. FAU got a 20-yard touchdown catch from Cortez Gent to pull within four, but the Wildcats cranked out a 24-point run to put it away. Woodson's record setting streak of 325 passes without an interception came to a stop when
Tavious Polo came up with his seventh of the year. UK outgained the Owls, 514 yards to 307.
Player of the game: Kentucky QB Andre Woodson finished 26-of-33 for 301 yards, five touchdowns and an interception, running for four yards on two carries.
Stat Leaders: Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 15-25, 184 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Charles Pierre, 14-56, 1 TD. Receiving: Cortez Gent, 5-53, 1 TD
Kentucky - Passing: Andre Woodson, 26-33, 301 yds, 5 TDs, 1 INT
Rafael Little, 20-112. Receiving: Dicky Lyons, 8-76, 2 TDs
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Kentucky's offense is destroying everyone at the moment, so the Owls have to try to put this big loss behind them as soon as possible and concentrate on trying to topple South Florida. To do that, the running game has to be more effective than it's been over the last few weeks, and Rusty Smith has to start pushing the ball deeper. He was able to light up North Texas two weeks ago, but he struggled against the UK secondary. The big issue was the third down defense, allowing Andre Woodson and the boys to convert 11 of 16 chances. That has to tighten up against the Bulls.

Sept. 22
Florida Atlantic 30 ... North Texas 20
North Texas took a 20-10 lead late into the third quarter helped by a 37-yard Jamario Thomas touchdown run and two 37-yard Thomas Moreland field goals, and then FAU's defense took over and the offense exploded for 20 unanswered points on two of Warley Leroy's three field goals, a 74-yard Cortez Gent touchdown pass, and a seven-yard DiIvory Edgecomb scoring run after an interception.
Player of the game: Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith completed 21 of 45 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown.
Stat Leaders: Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 21-45, 322 yds, 1 TD
Charles Pierre, 8-25, 1 TD. Receiving: Cortez Gent, 4-96, 1 TD
North Texas - Passing: Daniel Meager, 38-61, 301 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Jamario Thomas, 14-117, 1 TD. Receiving: Casey Fitzgerald, 10-89

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Coming into the battle against the suddenly high-powered North Texas offense, who would've predicted FAU's passing game would be more effective? Rusty Smith is starting to find his groove, and while it took almost 40 minutes for the team to get rolling, getting a second Sun Belt win, especially on the road, will go a long way with dates against Kentucky and South Florida ahead. Now the running game has to kick in, with DiIvory Edgecomb and Charles Pierre each needing more work to balance things out.

Sept. 15
Florida Atlantic 42 ... Minnesota 39
Florida Atlantic roared out to a 35-14 lead on four of Rusty Smith's five touchdown passes, while the Owl defense hung tough allowing just a 23-yard Eric Decker touchdown catch, to go along with Minnesota's first score on a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Jay Thomas. But the Gophers came back on three of Adam Weber's four touchdown passes, with two to Ernie Wheelwright to pull within seven with just over three minutes to play. The Gopher offense got one last shot, getting down to the FAU 36, but Weber was picked off by
Tavious Polo to seal the Owls' win.
Player of the game: Florida Atlantic QB Rusty Smith threw for 463 yards and five touchdown passes on 27-of-44 passing.
Stat Leaders: Minnesota - Passing: Adam Weber, 31-47, 335 yds, 4 TDS, 4 INTs
Rushing: Amir Pinnix, 16-92. Receiving: Eric Decker, 12-165, 1 TD
Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 27-44, 463 yds, 5 TDs
Charles Pierre, 17-89, 1 TD. Receiving: Jason Harmon, 5-104

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
While FAU can't be too happy with how Minnesota was able to get back into the game in the second half, a win over a Big Ten team might put the program on the map this year, and is a desperately needed performance with three road games coming up in the next four. The defense forced every Gopher mistake possible, and the offense took advantage, but Rusty Smith bombed away with his best game of his career. While the Owls would like to be balanced, with the improved offenses around the Sun Belt, it's good to know the offense can keep up if it needs to.

Sept. 8
Oklahoma State 42 ... Florida Atlantic 6
Andre Sexton set the tone for Oklahoma State with a 14-yard interception return for a score on the first play from scrimmage, and then Adarius Bowman and Kendall Hunter blew the game wide open with Bowman catching touchdown passes from seven and 77 yards out and Hunter taking a pass 47 yards for a score and adding a late 33-yard touchdown run. Florida Atlantic managed just 203 yards of total offense and two Warley Leroy field goals.
Player of the game ... Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson completed 14 of 20 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Stat Leaders: Oklahoma State - Passing: Zac Robinson, 14-20, 250 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Chris Offor, 10-77  Receiving: Adarius Bowman, 6-135, 2 TD
Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 14-22, 125 yds, 1 INT
Jeff Blanchard, 8-12  Receiving:
Rob Housler, 3-44
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... It would've been nice to have followed up the big win over Middle Tennessee with a nice performance against Oklahoma State, but that was a fired up Cowboy team that wanted a big game after losing to Georgia. The Owl offense didn't do nearly enough to help the defense out, with few sustained drives and no running attack to provide any sort of a threat, but that's going to happen against the better teams. Now the Owls have to use the Minnesota game to establish a pass rush before dealing with pass-happy North Texas and Kentucky teams over the next two weeks.

Sept. 1
Florida Atlantic 27 ... Middle Tennessee 14
Florida Atlantic jumped out to a 24-0 lead as Rusty Smith threw two touchdown passes and Charles Pierre ran for a one-yard score, but Middle Tennessee got back in the game on a 27-yard Desmond Gee touchdown catch in the fourth quarter followed up by a 32-yard blocked punt return for a score. The Owl defense, which came up with four sacks and allowed just 11 rushing yards, held firm and Warley Leroy put it away with his second field goal of the game.
Player of the game ... Florida Atlantic RB Charles Pierre ran 16 times for 95 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Joe Craddock, 20-32, 199 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: DeMarco McNair, 11-16  Receiving: Patrick Honeycutt, 6-41
Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 12-26, 195 yds, 2 TDs
Charles Pierre, 16-95, 1 TD  Receiving: Willie Rose, 3-14
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... While the offense might not have been spectacular against Middle Tennessee, make no mistake about it; this was a statement game for FAU in the Sun Belt race. The defense stuffed everything the Blue Raiders tried to do on the ground, and outside of a late scoring drive, never allowed the offense to get going. It was a group effort on D, getting good help and decent pressure to make this a surprising walk in the park. This was a Sun Belt championship-caliber performance.

Sept. 1 - Middle Tennessee
Offense: The offense was strange last year finishing sixth in the league in total yards but first in scoring. In other words, the O took advantage of almost every opportunity despite not being all that good scoring on 33 of 36 chances in the red zone. Even without long-time starting quarterback Clint Marks, the passing game can't help but better whether it's Joe Craddock, or one of three other options under center. The receiving corps is experienced, but unless Bobby Williams plays up to his talent, it won't be much better. The running game will be the strength with DeMarco McNair and speedsters Desmond Gee and Phillip Tanner running behind a massive line.
Defense: This should be one of the Sun Belt's best defenses in time, but only if the back seven can fill all the holes. The front four will be regulars in the backfield with three all-conference caliber ends in Erik Walden, Sean Mosley and Tavares Jones along with nose tackle Trevor Jenkins. The linebackers are a big problem needing to replace all three starters, but they aren't the problem the cornerbacks are. Bradley Robinson is an all-star, but there's no depth and a concern at the second spot. Damon Nickson will carry things for a while at safety.

Sept. 8 – at Oklahoma State
Offense: The potential is there for the nation's 16th best offense and seventh best scoring attack to be even better. Quarterback Bobby Reid lived up to the hype last season and proved he could be a star. While he loses a great target in D'Juan Woods, he gets Adarius Bowman back to go along with a slew of speedy but unproven receivers to stretch the field. The 1-2 rushing punch of Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston is among the fastest and most dangerous in America running behind a decent line that has experience, but will be a work in progress to find the right starting combination.
Defense: If nothing else, the defense was certainly interesting with an aggressive style that produced a ton of sacks, plenty of tackles for loss, and gave up too many big plays. New defensive coordinator Tim Beckman will tone things down a little bit while still taking the fight to the offense. The back seven will be terrific with a fantastic linebacking corps, even with top middle man Rodrick Johnson playing end and star Chris Collins trying to get through knee and off-the-field problems, while the secondary will strong as long as injuries don't hit the safeties. Experience on the line, especially at tackle, will be an issue early on, but the starting ends, Marque Fountain and Nathan Peterson, will be all-stars.

Sept. 15 - Minnesota
New offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar and his spread offense might seem like a radical departure for the Gophers, but the pieces are there, for the most part, for the thing to work right away with small, athletic linemen, quick running backs, and big receivers. The one thing missing is a steady quarterback who can hit the open receiver on a regular basis, meaning the Tony Mortensen vs. Adam Weber battle will go on until fall. Basically, the offense will undergo a change to achieve the same rushing results with a less effective passing game.
Defense: What the Gophers lack in talent they'll try to make up for in intensity and experience. For good and bad, ten starters return along with loads of experienced reserves to give hope for a big jump in overall production after finishing 113th in the nation in defense. However, there was a method to the old coaching staff's madness as the D allowed yards, but went for the big play forcing 32 turnovers. The new regime will be far more aggressive and take far more chances; they can do that with a veteran group like this. The linebacking corps will be the strength, while Willie VanDeSteeg and the line should get into the backfield more often. Can the Gophers shut down a power running attack or a high-octane passing game? No and no, but it'll be better in all phases.

Sept. 22 – at North Texas
Offense: The offense hasn't moved the ball in two years finishing 117th in the nation last season in yards and 115th in scoring. The look of the attack will change dramatically as new head coach Todd Dodge will incorporate his spread attack in an attempt to get something going. The backfield is solid with RB Jamario Thomas leading the way and a slew of veteran, yet mediocre quarterbacks returning. The receiving corps will need a while to jell with all the talent in the incoming freshman class, while the line will be a major problem early on.
Defense: The defense improved dramatically after making a drastic move to the 3-4. Now it'll go back to a traditional 4-3 and hope the overall experience and depth will pay off with more big plays after forcing just 14 turnovers. The linebackers will be solid with the return of Maurice Holman, Brandon Monroe and Derek Mendoza, while Aaron Weathers anchors a secondary that should be better in time. Generating a pass rush from the front four is a must, but Jeremiah Chapman will be a good end to work around.

Sept. 29 – at Kentucky
Offense: The Wildcat offense exploded last year thanks to the emergence of Andre Woodson as a superstar quarterback. It'll be bombs away once again, as Woodson chose to come back for his senior year and will have all his weapons at his disposal. Keenan Burton finally stayed healthy, and he became one of the SEC's most lethal receivers. Dicky Lyons, tight end Jacob Tamme, and running back Rafael Little are also back, with Little healthy enough again to be one of the SEC's best all-around offensive weapons. The problem is the line, which is mediocre at best, a liability at worst. It could be what keeps the Wildcats from being special.
Defense: Defensive coordinator Mike Archer is gone, and now former secondary coach Steve Brown will take over in an attempt to revive one of the nation's worst defenses. The run defense won't be any good again with little size up front, but the secondary should be better with excellent speed and good young prospects. It'll take awhile to see any improvement overall, but there's enough overall athleticism to expect things to be a bit better.

Oct. 6 - South Florida
Offense: This is Matt Grothe's offense, but unlike last season, he shouldn't have to do everything short of crafting the weekly gameplan in order to make the unit hum.  Although he led the offense in passing, rushing and scoring, the program realizes it needs to protect its most important commodity and give him more support.  Can freshman Mike Ford live up to the hype?  Plenty is expected from a back that should ignite a rushing attack that did little in 2006 when Grothe wasn't slithering through opposing defenses.  Originally headed to Tuscaloosa, he's the highest-profile recruit to ever sign with USF.  The Bull receivers are a dynamic bunch that's loaded with size, speed and underachievers that need to get their act together.
Defense: Like all teams from Florida, the USF defense pursues well and is built on speed.  Wally Burnham's unit is well-coached, prevents the big play and is vastly underappreciated and unnoticed on a national level.  That could change if the Bulls crack the top 10 in total defense in 2007, a distinct possibility.  Next level corners Trae Williams and Mike Jenkins allow the defense to sell out on occasion, and the front four, led by sophomore rush end George Selvie, returns seven linemen that started games in 2006.  Importing defensive line coach Dan McCarney and linebacker Tyrone McKenzie from Iowa State were coups that'll pay immediate dividends.

Oct. 20 – at UL Lafayette
Offense: The nation's seventh best rushing team two years ago, and 11th best last year, ULL will run more than ever with the return of two-time 1,000-yard back Tyrell Fenroy, speedy Deon Wallace, and running quarterback Michael Desormeaux. The receivers aren't used much, but they're experienced enough to make plays when they get the chance. The offensive line isn't deep, but the starting five will end up fine. The team will hope for around 2,500 rushing yards, and around 60% completion percentage throwing it.
Defense: New defensive coordinator Kevin Fouqueir won't change too much from one of the Sun Belt's better defenses. Five starters return, along with a few others with starting experience, to form a solid run defense that needs to be tighter against the pass. The secondary will give up completions, but it's not going to get beaten too often. The front seven should be great with a nice blend of talents and depth to form a good rotation almost everywhere. If ULL doesn't lead the league in run defense, it'll finish second.

Oct. 27 - UL Monroe
Offense: The best offense in the Sun Belt gets 11 starters back led by RB Calvin Dawson working behind a terrific line with several all-star candidates. QB Kinsmon Lancaster has a year of starting experience under his belt, and he has all his top targets to get the ball to including LaGregory Sapp and tight end Zeek Zacharie. While the attack will spread it out and allow Lancaster to use his mobility and big-time arm to find the right receiver, it'll be Dawson who carries the workload when things get tight.
Defense: The same problems ULM had last year appear to be the same issues going into this year with a questionable run defense and no proven pass rush, but the strength, the secondary, will be the same even without Kevin Payne and Chaz Williams. The 4-2-5 did its job against mediocre offenses, but got ripped apart by any offense with a pulse. Unless the line is better, the Warhawks will be pounded on by everyone in the Sun Belt.

Nov. 10 - Arkansas State
Offense: Run, run and run some more. At least that's what ASU has done over the last several years, and it has the talent in the backfield to do it again with speedy quarterback Corey Leonard leading a loaded group of runners with several great backs to hand off to. Reggie Arnold is the best of the bunch, but he's one of just four good options to carry the load. Two problems with what ASU likes to do. 1. The line needs major revamping losing three key players and 2) the receiving corps might be the team's second biggest strength behind the running backs. The underutilized corps has speed to burn, but Leonard couldn't get them the ball on a consistent basis last season. That has to quickly change.
Defense: It's all up to the defensive line. The linebacking corps, despite some huge losses, will be surprisingly solid with Koby McKinnon returning with plenty of help around him. The safeties are tremendous with Tyrell Johnson and Khayyam Burns each on the fast track to All-Sun Belt honors. The corners are deep and potentially a major strength of the defense. And then there's the line, which has to figure out how to get to the quarterback at some point. The return of Brian Flagg and Brandon Rollins from injuries will be a huge boost. The 4-3 alignment works, and it should produce the league's best statistical pass defense.

Nov. 17 – at Florida
Offense: Now it's time to see how this baby runs. Now the Urban Meyer spread offense will do what it's supposed to with Tim Tebow at the controls full-time, and with a slew of speedy players around him. The offensive line isn't going to wow anyone, but it's experienced, and good enough to win with. The receiving corps has explosion, led by Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, and some tremendous tight ends, and the running backs, with the emergence of smallish speedster Chris Rainey, will have more pop. Now it's up to Tebow to not only shine, but stay healthy with two true freshmen behind him.
This is what's called giving Florida the benefit of the doubt. Anyone else replacing nine starters, needing a slew of true freshman to play big roles right away, and/or had the issues the Gators have on the line and at corner, would be instantly dismissed from any SEC East title talk much less the national championship discussion. The recruiting classes have brought in a ton of ultra-fast, ultra-athletic player for the back seven, but there isn't enough size up front, or developed depth anywhere, to hope for any sort of consistency. No, things won't fall off the map after finishing sixth in the nation in scoring and total defense, but there will be some major growing pains to fight through.

Nov. 24 – at FIU
Offense New offensive coordinator James Coley has a lot of work to do with an offense that finished dead last in America in scoring averaging fewer than ten points per game and 116th in the nation in yards averaging 233 per outing. Eight starters return, including the entire offensive line, and there's good potential in the backfield with the 1-2 rushing punch of Julian Reams and A'mod Ned, but the passing game needs work with Paul McCall likely to take over at quarterback and no experience at receiver to rely on. 
Defense: The defense did what it could with no help from the offense, and now seven starters return with a shot to be among the league's best. The secondary gets all four starters back, led by Lionell Singleton at corner. The line is big and good with a pair of strong 300-pounders (Roland Clarke and Jonas Murrell) inside. Now for the problem: the great linebacking corps loses all three starters. The top four tacklers are gone, along with the top pass rushers. Keyonvis Bouie, Alexander Bostic, and Antwan Barnes were stars who won't be easily replaced.

Dec. 1 – at Troy
Offense: Spread it out with four wide receivers, let Sun Belt Player of the Year Omar Haugabook throw to the open guy, hope it all works. This isn't an explosive attack, and it won't be for a while with a mixed bag of talents on the front line trying to fit the puzzle. The running backs are fine with the return of Sean Dawkins helping out Kenny Cattouse, and Gary Banks and Mykeal Terry lead an inexperienced receiving corps that'll be fine. But it's all up to Haugabook. He's the difference between a second straight Sun Belt title and a losing season.
Troy won the Sun Belt title despite a mediocre year from the defense. Now the D will be positively dominant with the best secondary and a defensive line that's either the best, or a close second behind Middle Tennessee's. Generating pressure won't be a problem with phenomenal pass rushers from every spot, while the secondary will use five and six defensive backs at times just to get all its talent on the field. The linebacking corps is the weakness of the defense by default considering how good the line and secondary will be, but it'll still be fantastic with Boris Lee and Marcus Richardson each deserving all-star consideration.


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