Fort Lauderdale, Fla.--Winning just three games last season, Florida Atlantic is hoping for bigger and better things in year two of the Carl Pelina Era with 15 starters returning, including nine on the defensive side of the ball.
While the Owls struggled for much of the 2012 season, wins over Troy and Western Kentucky in the second half of the season showed what the program is capable of doing.
The key to the season for Florida Atlantic will hinge on the play at the quarterback position. With starter Graham Wilbert gone the job could go to one of two junior college transfers this fall and both are capable of becoming playmakers in Conference USA. A transfer from East Mississippi Community College, 6-0, 225 Jaquez Johnson earned honorable mention All-American honors last season.
He will have to beat out fellow juco All-American Melvin German (6-2, 210) from Pearl River Community College in Mississippi. A relative of former top Miami prospect Jammi German, he is a physical quarterback with a very good arm.
No matter which quarterback wins the job he will have weapons to throw to beginning with preseason All-Conference USA wide receiver William Dukes. The 6-4, 190 junior caught 63 passes for 979 yards a year ago and should be in line for even more touches in 2013. His running mate, Nexon Dorvilus (6-4, 255, Sr.), had 30 receptions for 301 yards as a junior and is one of the top tight ends in the conference.
Throw in senior running back Jonathan Wallace (6-1, 210) and his 673 yards and six touchdowns and you have a solid group of skill players returning for the Owls.
Defensively, Florida Atlantic has plenty of experience, but that may not be a great thing after allowing 30.8 points and 409.8 yards per game in 2012. Giving up 205 rushing yards per outing, the Owls are hoping to get better play up front and much of that will hinge on a trio of returning defensive line starters. Senior Corey Henry (6-3, 238) and sophomores Trevon Coley (6-2, 225) and Brandin Bryant (6-2, 260) lead the way up front for FAU.
They will try to clear out space to let talented linebackers Andrae Kirk and Randell Johnson roam. Kirk totaled 70 tackles as a sophomore and at 6-2, 225 has the size to play inside for the Florida Atlantic defense. Johnson played in mostly a reserve role last season for the Owls after an injury slowed him. The 6-4, 230 senior made 21 tackles with a pair of sacks. He started every game of the 2011 season.
Top Offensive Player:
This is an easy call. Dukes is an explosive wide receiver who is going to create problems for any secondary he matches up against. Last season he went over the century mark for receiving yards four times including 204 against the University of Louisiana.
Top Defensive Player
Even though Johnson wasn’t a starter last season, he’s probably the most explosive of the Owl defenders and it showed in 2011. Starting every game as a sophomore, he finished second on the team with 92 tackles. led the team with 14 1/2 tackles for losses while adding five sacks.
Schedule Tough Stretch:
The start of the 2013 slate doesn’t do Florida Atlantic any favors. Hoping to get off to a better start this season will require some doing after opening at Miami, East Carolina and South Florida the first three weeks of the season.
Newcomer To Watch:
Needing size on the defensive line, 6-4, 280 junior college defensive tackle Derek Butcher may be the most important signee for the Owls this season. Providing some bulk in the middle of the defense should allow him some early playing time in 2013.
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