Florida Atlantic finished 7-6 in 2008, with a season ending victory over Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl. With a solid offensive backfield returning led by senior quarterback Rusty Smith, expectations are high for the Owls. Smith is getting some serious buzz going into his fourth season as FAU's starting quarterback. Phil Steele named Smith his #11 quarterback in the nation in his preseason magazine. Junior wide receiver Cortez Gent also was recognized by Steele, rating him the #33 wide receiver in the country. Smith will also benefit from the return of all-conference tight end Jason Harmon, who missed the 2008 season with a knee injury. Tight end Jamari Grant is another name Husker fans need to know. All told, the Owls return six offensive starters, with the key losses being at running back and on the offensive line.
The Owls' defense only returns four starters, led by juniors corners Tavious Polo and Tarvoris Hill. Polo, a freshman all-American in 2007, was slotted by Steele as the #21 cornerback in the country. The defensive line is anchored by tackle Josh Savidge, who is the sole returning starter up in the front seven.
The Owls 7-6 record is a little misleading, as Jeff Sagarin rated the Owls #102 in the country last season. Those seven victories were against Alabama-Birmingham (4-8, Sagarin #116), Western Kentucky (2-10, Sagarin #161), Louisiana-Monroe (4-8, Sagarin #135), North Texas (1-11, Sagarin #171), Louisiana Lafayette (6-6, Sagarin #106), Florida International (5-7, Sagarin #113), and Central Michigan (8-5, Sagarin #96). Against BCS conference opponents, the Owls didn't fare well. In the season opener against Texas, the Owls lost 52-10. 9-4 Michigan State shut out the Owls 17-0, and 7-6 Minnesota beat FAU 37-3.
Florida Atlantic's top 25 offense represents a solid challenge for a Nebraska secondary which had a tendency to break down and give up huge plays at inopportune times. But the Owl defense will need to find some more playmakers in 2009 than were on the field last season. The Huskers can ill afford to overlook any opponent in this day and age of parity in college football; just look at what fellow Sun Belt conference foe Arkansas State did to Texas A&M last season.
The Owls weak defensive line got weaker this week as two key members of their defensive line, starter Andy Czuprynski, and his backup, Jamere Johnson, will miss the game due to injuries. This will leave them more susceptible to wearing down late in the game, and you know that the Huskers will be running the ball at them to start the game.
The Owls did get some good news as one of their offensive line starters, Carl Spitale, has been cleared to play after injuring his neck a couple weeks away. This means Florida Atlantic will have their full range of starters on offense.
If the Huskers pay attention to business, Nebraska should be able to handle the Owls in the season opener. Hell, let's be honest - this game should be over by half time.
(Florida Atlantic Preview updated by Corn Blight - originally published June 2009)