Florida Atlantic football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Owls, best players and season prediction.
After back-to-back 3-9 seasons, it’s time for Charlie Partridge to begin producing better results in Boca Raton.
Partridge was hired in 2014 to bring stability to Florida Atlantic. Check. But he was also brought aboard to transform the Owls into a player in Conference USA, an objective that appears almost as far away as when he arrived from Bret Bielema’s Arkansas staff.
The Owls didn’t turn any heads last season, save for the 31-17 win over rival Florida International in the Shula Bowl. FAU was eliminated from bowl contention on Nov. 7, the seventh straight year that it failed to qualify for a December bowl game. The main culprit for the demise was a necrotic offense that produced more than 26 points in a game just three times.
For better or worse, the Owl attack will be under new leadership in 2016. Travis Trickett, whose dad coaches the Florida State O-line, replaces Brian Wright as the new coordinator. And playmaking QB Jaquez Johnson will be succeeded by either Jason Driskel, last year’s backup, or rookie Daniel Parr. Trickett faces a steep climb ahead, though his offensive line will be one of the league’s most experienced blocking units.
While the offense is busy seeking an identity, the defense will be expected to lug a little more of the weight in the early going. While there are certainly losses on this side of the ball, there’s also a foundation on which success can be built. DE Trey Hendrickson might be the league’s best defensive player, Azeez Al-Shaair and Nate Ozdemir are risers at linebacker and the secondary shows promise. The D will also get a hidden boost from Dalton Schomp, last year’s First Team All-Conference USA punter.
Partridge has had a positive influence on Florida Atlantic, which was reeling after the messy midseason ouster of Carl Pelini in 2013. But six wins over two seasons isn’t going to cut it at a Group of Five school situated in an ideal location for picking off overlooked and underdeveloped recruits. While no one is looking to be trigger-happy with Partridge, the time has come for he and his kids to begin inching closer to the .500 mark. If he manages no more than three or four wins in 2016, he’ll start 2017 squarely on the coaching hot seat.
What You Need to Know About the Florida Atlantic Offense
The coordinator is new. The quarterback will be. The hope around Boca Raton is that the results will be new as well. The Owls were atrocious on offense a season ago, failing to ever gain any traction.
The task of turning things around belongs to former Samford assistant Travis Trickett, who’s installing a spread attack that keeps defenses off guard by mixing looks and tempo. Trickett’s first of many priorities will be choose a successor at quarterback between underclassmen Jason Driskel and Daniel Parr.
Although Driskel started games in 2015, he was unable to eliminate all doubts in the spring. The offensive strength will be up front, where Reggie Bain headlines a group of four returning starters. If the O-line evolves, it could help free up senior backs Greg Howell and Jay Warren, while affording the young QBs time to spot open targets.
The receivers have can’t-miss size, led by 6-6 Nate Terry who’s about to bloom now that’s he’s no longer saddled with the blocking responsibilities of a tight end.
Biggest Key To The Offense
situation remains unresolved. While sophomore Jason Driskel appeared in 10 games last season and performed better in the spring game, Charlie Partridge won’t name a starter until the summer. Redshirt freshman Daniel Parr is essentially 1A at this point after showcasing above average poise and arm talent in March and April. Both players will tee it up again in August, as the Owls resume the process of replacing longtime starter Jaquez Johnson behind center.
What You Need to Know About the Florida Atlantic Defense
The decision of coordinator Roc Bellantoni to simplify his defense in 2015 worked, with the Owls allowing fewer points than the previous year. However, the staff must replace a few of its top players, such as CB Cre’von LeBlanc and linemen Trevon Coley and Brandin Bryant, to continue surging in the right direction.
The back seven, in general, should be fine. A healthy Robert Relf is expected to rejoin emerging stars Azeez Al-Shaair and Nate Ozdemir at linebacker. And the secondary flashes high upside with SS Jalen Young, NB Ocie Rose and corners Herb Miller and Raekwon Williams.
But opponents will know how to hit FAU this fall if the tackles wind up being the soft underbelly of an otherwise promising D-line. The onus is on Shalom Ogbonda, Ray Ellis and Steven Leggett to complement the pressure that Trey Hendrickson and Hunter Snyder are prepared to provide off the edge.
Biggest Key To The Defense
Azeez-ing the moment. Sophomore LB Azeez Al-Shaair was a revelation in his first season out of Hillsborough (Fla.) High School, leading the Owls in tackles. He’ll be even more impactful in Year 2 at FAU. Besides the benefit of now having a full year of experience in the vault, it was visible how dedicated he was in the weight room this past offseason. Al-Shaair is noticeably bigger and stronger in 2016, which is going to directly impact his production and durability in the fall.
Florida Atlantic Will Be Far Better If …
the offense learns to be clutch. Coordinator Travis Trickett was hired after Brian Wright left for the same gig at Toledo. While the change wasn’t planned, it wasn’t such a bad thing either considering the Owls’ recent struggles. Trickett has a ton of objectives over the next few months. Chief among them, though, will be coaching up an inefficient attack that ranked 115th nationally in third-down conversions and 123rd in red-zone touchdowns a season ago.
Best Offensive Player
Junior LT Reggie Bain. Florida Atlantic is optimistic about an offensive line that returns four starters from last season. Headlining the group is Bain, a two-year starter with a proven track record, especially as a run blocker. In the new system, the Owls want to unleash the potential of backs Greg Howell, Jay Warren and Kerrith Whyte, who shined in the spring game. And when FAU commits to the run, it’ll likely run to the side of Bain, an all-leaguer in 2015.
Best Defensive Player
Senior DE Trey Hendrickson. Florida Atlantic typically has no more than one or two athletes each year who could play at the Power Five level. Hendrickson is one of those Owls, a dominant pass rusher who’ll again command maximum attention from opposing linemen in 2016. And when he’s whipping double-teams, it’ll also mean that Hunter Snyder and Haiden Nagel will have a clearer path to the pocket from the opposite side of the line.
Key Player to a Successful Season
The new starting quarterback. Florida Atlantic must improve on offense after only 22 points per game in 2015. But if either Jason Driskel or Daniel Parr can’t adequately supplant Jaquez Johnson behind center, the Owls have no chance of moving in the right direction. One of the two underclassmen has to effectively partner with a long and athletic receiving corps that includes TE Tyler Cameron and receivers Nate Terry, Kamrin Solomon and Kalib Woods.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
Florida Atlantic locates the six wins needed to qualify for its third-ever bowl berth, and first since 2008. It’s Year 3 for head coach Charlie Partridge, who’s spoken of the cultural changes that have taken place during his brief tenure. But after two seasons, it shouldn’t be unrealistic to expect postseason eligibility in this era of a bloated bowl schedule. The Owls probably don’t upset Miami, Kansas State, Marshall or Western Kentucky. But the balance of the schedule is soft enough to dream of a 6-6 regular season.
Oct. 1 at Florida International. The Shula Bowl has become increasingly important for both universities, both from a recruiting and a local bragging rights perspective. The teams have played in each of the last 14 years, with the Owls winning at home last season, 31-17. But Florida Atlantic has struggled on the road the last two years, and must survive these kinds of matchups to have any shot of bowling in December.
2015 Fun Stats
– Touchdown passes: Florida Atlantic 12 – Opponents 23
– Yards per game: Florida Atlantic 377.8 – Opponents 405. 1
– Sacks: Florida Atlantic 35 – Opponents 26