The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 117: FAU
Coach: Carl Pelini (0-0, first season at FAU)
2011 record: 1-11 (0-8 in Sun Belt, ninth in Sun Belt)
Look back: A brutal schedule, front-loaded with road games against powerhouse teams, helped FAU stumble to a 1-11 record. It was a tough way for Coach Howard Schnellenberger, who built the Owls’ program from scratch, to retire. Schnellenberger, the legendary coach who led Miami to a national championship, helped raise $13 million to launch the football program and became its first head coach. He closed out his tenure by helping fund-raise for a new FAU football stadium, and watched his team struggle in 2011. It was his final season at FAU and the program’s first year competing in the new stadium.
Schnellenberger’s final FAU team struggled on offense, ranking No. 120 – or last – nationally in total offense with 248.75 yards per game. The team also ranked No. 119 in scoring offense (12.92 points per game), No. 111 in passing offense (143.08 yards per game) and No. 108 in rushing offense (105.67 yards per game). The team wasn’t much stronger on the defensive side of the ball, ranking No. 103 in scoring defense by allowing 34.67 points per game.
It didn’t help that FAU traditionally plays a lot of money games to help offset the cost of the new stadium and operation of the football program. In 2011, early games at Florida, at Michigan State and at Auburn took a toll on the team. FAU’s sole win was a 38-35 victory over struggling UAB Nov. 26. The Owls were outscored last season by an average of 21.8 points per game.
Senior running back Alfred Morris was one of the bright spots for FAU. He led the team in rushing and ranked No. 24 nationally with 98.8 yards per contest.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 5/6
Defensive starters lost/returning: 3/8
Key losses: RB Alfred Morris, RB Willie Floyd, DB Marcus Bartels, DL Kevin Cyrille
Top returnees: RB Jonathan Wallace, QB Graham Wilbert, QB Stephen Curtis, WR DeAndre Richardson, MLB David Hinds, PR Travis Jones
Strengths: Carl Pelini took over as FAU’s new coach, infusing the program with a lot of energy and excitement. He has had success at the high school and college level, most recently working on his brother Bo Pelini’s staff at Nebraska. Carl Pelini should be able to find the type of recruits he needs in Florida to run the spread offense he said he plans to install at FAU. The new stadium and the school’s commitment to the football program should help impress recruits.
Pelini and his staff have already found an under-the-radar gem in running back Jonathan Wallace, a Boyd Anderson graduate who transferred to FAU after playing at an Iowa junior college. He was not signed as part of the regular recruiting class and was an unknown commodity entering spring workouts. Wallace had a strong spring and rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns during FAU’s spring game, likely earning the starting running back job for the upcoming season.
Thanks to the offense’s difficulty moving the ball last season, the defense spent a lot of time on the field and gained valuable game experience. The defense returns eight total starters, including middle linebacker David Hinds. He tied for No. 37 nationally last season with 9.2 tackles per game.
Weaknesses: The spread offense puts pressure on the quarterbacks to make quick decisions and it isn’t the easiest offense to execute well without much experience. It may be a challenge for FAU players to quickly learn the offense and improve on some pretty dismal offensive numbers.
Pelini has yet to identify a starting quarterback, which typically isn’t a good sign for a team. Returning starter Graham Wilbert and Stephen Curtis shared first team snaps during spring football, and it’s tough to tell which one is best suited to run the offense next season.
While Wallace has shined early, Pelini and his staff haven’t had enough time to bring in all the athletes they likely need to execute well on both sides of the ball.
Outlook: FAU once again plays a tough nonconference schedule. It will likely take more than just one season for Pelini and his staff install their game plan and start earning more wins.
Aug. 31 Wagner
Sept. 8 At Middle Tennessee
Sept. 15 At Georgia
Sept. 22 At Alabama
Sept. 29 North Texas
Oct. 13 At ULM
Oct. 20 At South Alabama
Oct. 27 Troy
Nov. 3 At Navy
Nov. 10 At Western Kentucky
Nov 16 FIU
Dec. 1 ULL