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September 1, 2011

Game Week: Florida Atlantic Breakdown


MORE FOOTBALL COVERAGE: Rebuilt backfield | Roundtable: Fall Football Q&A | 10 Questions: UF-FAU Edition | Weis will implement new system from the sidelines | Depth Chart Breakdown & Positional Grades

The Will Muschamp Era officially kicks off Saturday evening in the Swamp when Florida takes on Florida Atlantic in the 2011 season opener. Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match up in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down the Owls with his answers to five burning questions as well previewing five FAU players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.

BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these five burning questions
1) Could Muschamp have hand picked an easier debut game?

Not if you believe Athlon Sports magazine, which ranks Florida Atlantic 120th out of 120 bowl subdivision teams. That's right. Retiring coach Howard Schnellenberger's final season could be a complete flop. The Owls will be fortunate to win more than two games, their total under Schnellenberger in 2002 when the program was in only its second year of existence. At age 77, he stuck around so that he could coach in a long-awaited on-campus, 30,000-seat stadium, but he probably should have stepped down in 2008 after winning two bowl games in a row. No one wants to exit as a big loser.

2) Do the Owls have a strength?

Yes. Their running game could be pretty potent on their level(Sun Belt Conference), which makes Athlon's rating appear a tad extreme. Lindy's is probably more accurate, putting FAU 108th. Running back Alfred Morris gained 1,392 yards two years ago, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and even picking up 95 yards against Nebraska and Ndamukong Suh. He's a big-time back. Although his numbers dipped to 928 yards and 4.1 yards per carry last season, FAU returns its entire starting offensive line and should give him more room to operate as a senior. Florida's front seven will be tested.

3) So why is FAU supposed to be so bad?

Because the strengths start and end with the running game.

FAU, which averaged 280 yards in the air as recently as 2008, is bereft of proven performers in the passing game. Quarterback David Kool threw two passes last year and did not complete either of them. Wide receiver DeAndre Richardson (12 catches, 114 yards) and reserve running back Willie Floyd (12 catches, 141 yards) a sixth-year senior, are the leading returning receivers.

Floyd has suffered two torn ACLS and a torn pectoral muscle in his injury-plagued career. If this were a pop group, it would be called Kool and the Gang of no bodies.

Last season, the defense was bad against the run (204 yards per game) and the pass (60.6 completion rate) and returns only five starters. Unless the emotions from Schnellenberger's final season produce some surprising results, the Owls'record will get worse for the fourth consecutive year.

4) What is the most interesting thing about FAU?

It is the first name of starting linebacker Yourhighness Morgan, a cousin of former Florida linebacker Earl Everett. Morgan's mother stuck him with the bizarre moniker, but he is more than just a funny name. Rivals.com ranked him the No. 44 players at his position coming out of high school, and he made 47 tackles as a part-time starter in 2010, including 12 stops against Louisiana-Lafayette. One Internet sight picked Yourhighness as the second goofiest name in sports behind NFL offensive lineman Richie Incognito.

5) What would be the most fitting ending Saturday?

Muschamp grew up in Gainesville, so he was in town in 1980 when Schnellenberger, then the coach at Miami, called a timeout and ordered a field goal in the final seconds of a 31-7 victory over Florida.

Say the Gators are ahead 56-7 and running out the clock in the final seconds. Wouldn't it be perfect if Muschamp calls a timeout and attempts a field goal, sending Schellenberger a nice going-away present?

Schnellenberger said he went for the field goal because one of his assistant coaches got hit by an orange thrown from the stands in the final seconds. That's one worry he won't have this time.

FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Owl players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
1) Alfred Morris, 5-foot-11, 222-pound senior running back
Smith Says: What does it say about the talent evaluation at FAU that this guy became a starter two seasons ago only because of injury? He broke tackles left and right in the spring game that year, setting the tone for his future stardom.
2) Marcus Bartells, 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior free safety back
Smith Says: Bartells had more than double the number of tackles (104) than any returning Owl. He's good, but that's a sign of trouble since he plays free safety.
3) Xavier Stinson, 5-foot-9, 229-pound junior fullback/linebacker
Smith Says:He is player to watch only if he plays both ways. Stinson recovered a fumble and rushed for a touchdown in FAU's spring game while pulling double duty. He is a reserve on defense, but Schnellenberger can create a major story by using him at linebacker, too.
4) Mickey Groody, 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior punter
Smith Says: With a gross average of 45.7 yards and a net average of 38.8, Groddy would have finished among the top half in SEC punting in 2010. He will get plenty of work on Saturday.
5) Yourhighness Morgan, 6-foot-2, 245-pound junior linebacker
Smith Says: We take advantage of every opportunity to write the name Yourhighness. His being a good player (47 tackles, second to Bartels) is a pure bonus.

1) This is the second meeting between the teams. Florida won the first, 59-20, in 2007. The Gators have not lost a season opener since 1989, when Ole Miss turned the trick in The Swamp.
2) Schnellenberger is 4-4 against Florida, going 4-2 at Miami and 0-1 at Louisville and FAU. The Owls are 0-4 against SEC teams, losing to Florida, 45-6 to South Carolina in 2006, 45-17 to Kentucky in 2007 and 38-16 to South Carolina in 2009.
3) FAU is one of only three teams that has played in more than one bowl game and never lost, joining UNLV (3-0) and Idaho (2-0). The Owls beat Memphis 44-27 in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl and Central Michigan 24-21 in the 2008 Motor City Bowl.
4) FAU is the only team in the country that starts with five road games. The Owls play Florida, Michigan State, Auburn, Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas before finally christening FAU Stadium on Oct. 15 against Western Kentucky. They likely will be 0-5 when they entertain the Hilltoppers, who have won four games total in the past three years.
5) FAU has opened against ranked teams in three of the last five years, losing to No. 18 Clemson 54-6 in 2006, No. 11 Texas 52-10 in 2008 and No. 24 Nebraska 49-3 in 2009. That doesn't bode well for the Owls against No. 22 Florida. This one will get ugly early.

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