BY RYAN BLACK | email@example.com
With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 4, we continue with the Florida Atlantic Owls. The Tigers will host the newly-minted Conference USA representative in Game No. 8 this season.
Who: Florida Atlantic
When: Saturday, Oct. 26
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.
All-time series: Auburn leads 1-0
When last they met: Florida Atlantic had nothing to be ashamed of the last time it left Jordan-Hare Stadium just two years ago. Yes, Auburn won 30-14, but the Owls made the defending national champion work for it — for at least one half, anyway. The Owls intercepted Tigers quarterback Barrett Trotter on the first play of the contest, converting the turnover into a field goal to take a 3-0 lead at the 11:36 mark of the opening period. Auburn scored 10 straight points, but Florida Atlantic was able to get one more field goal on the board to trail only 10-6 heading into the locker room. Tigers defensive back Jermaine Whitehead effectively sealed the victory for the home team when he stepped in front of a pass from Owls quarterback Graham Wilbert and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown to push their lead to 17-6 with 13:32 to go in the third quarter. The Tigers put 13 more unanswered points on the board in that quarter to take a 30-6 advantage into the final stanza. The Owls scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but the game was long decided by then. Though the Tigers came away with the ‘W,’ their offense struggled throughout, gaining just 315 yards, eight more than the Owls (307), a squad that came into the contest averaging just 92.5 yards per game offensively.
The coach: Carl Pelini (3-9 last season in first year at Florida Atlantic)
2012 record: 3-9, 2-6 Sun Belt Conference
Total offense: 350.67 ypg (98th in Division I, 9th in Sun Belt)
Scoring offense: 20.50 ppg (105th, 9th)
Total defense: 406.08 ypg (70th, 4th)
Scoring defense: 30.83 ppg (84th, 8th)
2012 Year-in-Review: After starting out 1-6, which included losses to both Georgia and Alabama, the Owls showed signs of improvement once conference play began. Florida Atlantic was able to beat both Troy and Western Kentucky in the season’s second half to carry some positive vibes heading into Pelini’s second year on the job. But on the downside, the Owls can throw away any information they compiled about their Sun Belt Conference rivals, as they switched their conference affiliation during the offseason. Florida Atlantic will begin competing in Conference USA this fall. The move is a double-edged sword for the team, though. Financially, it’s a fantastic decision, since more money will begin flowing into FAU’s athletic department. But from a competitive standpoint, this hurts FAU, at least initially. The C-USA will be much tougher top-to-bottom than the Sun Belt was, so don’t expect the Owls to be in the mix for a bowl for at least one more season, maybe two.
Biggest area of concern: No one has any idea who will be in the lineup at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Wilbert, a two-year starter, left a three-way quarterback battle in his wake. The three candidates — Stephen Curtis, Jaquez Johnson and Melvin German III — are equally green. Only Curtis has thrown a pass in a game before, appearing in five games last season in mop-up duty. In his 10 attempts, he completed four passes for 37 yards. Curtis’ scant experience didn’t give him a leg up on the other two, however, as Pelini said German III was the favorite to win the job following the team’s spring game. Pelini’s proclamation came with a caveat, though, as he insisted the starter would not be named until the fall.
Key returning player/unit: Whoever ends up winning the quarterback job can be thankful he’ll have a pair of weapons to throw to in senior tight end Nexon Dorvilus and junior wideout William Dukes. Dorvilus, a Miami native, led the team in receiving touchdowns last season with five. He caught 30 passes last season for 301 yards, and had multiple receptions in nine of the Owls’ 12 games last season en route to being a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection. Dukes was even better, posting team-highs in receptions (63) and receiving yardage (979), while also being named to the all-conference second team. He recorded five or more receptions in all but one game, setting a season and career-high with nine, which he did twice, against Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafeyette, respectively. With this receiving duo at their disposal, and another year of seasoning to get comfortable with Pelini’s spread attack, the Owls should be able to improve upon their mediocre showing in 2012.
Extra point: Since capturing bowl victories in consecutive years (2007 and 2008), the Owls have not been back to the postseason. In the past four bowl-less seasons, FAU has posted a 13-35 overall record.