FAU faces brutal C-USA road
Editor's note: This is the sixth part of a 12-week series looking at the opponents for the 2013 Marshall Thundering Herd football team.
HUNTINGTON -- Moving to a new conference is hard for any team to take on.
Moving to a bigger conference after a run in the Sun Belt in which a team has won just 13 games makes the task unenviable to anyone.
Yet, that is the plight of Florida Atlantic in 2013.
Not only do the Owls move from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, they do so knowing they will have just one game in Boca Raton, Fla., in the first half of the season.
Sure, they get a pair of in-state games, but a pair of roadies against Miami and South Florida aren't exactly the type of home lovin' the Owls were looking for.
When FAU hosts Marshall on Oct .12, it will be just its second home game of the season.
It's certainly not going to be an easy plight for head coach Carl Pelini, especially after a season when his team finished 3-9 and he has more questions than answers rolling into 2013.
Offensively, the Owls finished 107th in scoring offense in 2012, compiling just 20.5 points per contest. On the flip side, the defense wasn't the greatest either, allowing 30.8 points per game, which ranked 85th.
Heading into the 2013 campaign, the problem is the same on both sides of the ball -- the battle in the trenches.
On the offensive line senior left tackle and DeAndre Williams and center Mustafa Johnson will be the leaders, but there are many uncertainties at the other three spots.
There is beef with projected left guard Stern Vile (by the way, great name) listed at 6-foot-5, 335 pounds and sophomore right guard Mike Marsaille at 6-5, 300, but size doesn't exactly mean talent.
That doesn't bode well for a team who will come into the season with, at best, a quarterback who has 10 career pass attempts. That would be junior Stephen Curtis, who was a backup to Graham Wilbert in 2012. Jaquez Johnson and Melvin German III are both in the mix, but neither has attempted a Division I pass to this point, although Johnson is thought to be making a strong case for a starting nod.
If there is a bright spot for FAU, it is that there are some experienced guys returning at the skill positions.
Perhaps the best player on the field for the Owls will be receiver William Dukes, a 6-4, 190-pound junior, who caught 63 passes for 978 yards last season.
The Owls need another target to step into the mix to aid with the passing attack and take some of the pressure off of Dukes. Potential candidates at receiver spots include Jenson Stoshak, DeAndre Richardson or Daniel McKinney, but Dukes' greatest ally could be tight end Nexon Dorvilus, who caught 30 passes for 301 yards.
Once again, though, if the offensive line doesn't improve Dorvilus will likely have to stay in more as a blocker, thus limiting his ability to be an effective option as a receiver.
In the running game, Jonathan Wallace returns after leading the group with 668 yards last season. Also returning are Damian Fortner and Martese Jackson.
As was the case with the offense, the defensive front is porous when it comes to the rushing attack. The opposition averaged 4.9 yards per rush and 205 yards per game with 23 touchdowns on the ground against a defensive front that now includes a 225-pound defensive tackle, Trevon Coley, listed as a starter on the two-deep.
Martin Wright and Andrew Stryffeler platoon at one end spot while converted linebacker Cory Henry will be at the other end.
The corps of linebackers is solid with Andrae Kirk, Adarius Glanton and Randell Johnson coming back. Johnson missed much of 2012 because of injury, but is back in the mix and brings senior leadership to the group.
In the secondary, the loss of leading tackler Brent Harstad at strong safety will hurt, but Winfred Strickland has the upper hand on Damian Parms for the position.
Cornerbacks Keith Reaser and D'Joun Smith join free safety Jeremy McKnight to round out the starting group while nickelback Cre'von LeBlanc is also a playmaker.
When there are so many questions offensive and defensively, the hope for a coach is that the special teams phase can pick up the slack and serve as a boost.
That has not been the case for FAU, who converted just 8-of-17 field goal attempts in 2012 with five misses being blocked. Mitch Anderson returns after going 7-of-14 on the year, but his status as the team's kicker is less than solid.
The same can be said for punter Sean Kelly, who averaged 39.9 yards per punt in 68 attempts last year. He had a long of 68 and 14 attempts exceeded 50 yards, but consistency was nowhere to be found.
If there is good news for the Owls, it is that the team looked a bit better in the second half and that is something for Pelini to build on.
The final four games of the year are against teams who, like FAU, are projected to be in the bottom third of the Division I echelon this year with three of those coming at home.
However, it will be tough to overcome five of the first six and six of the first eight being on the road.
That tough road stretch could mean a long road for the Owls in 2013.
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