Player that has to step up and become a star: Redshirt Freshman QB Rusty Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman WR Cortez Gant
Best pro prospect: Senior FB Aaron Sanchez
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Edgecomb, 2) Sanchez, 3) WR Casey McGahee
Strength of the offense: Running back
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line depth, scoring
The key to the unit: Get more consistency and more accuracy. The FAU quarterbacks, mostly Danny Embick, combined to complete 52% of their passes with 17 interceptions.
Quarterback Rating: 4
- Rusty Smith, Fr. - With a great arm and 6-4 size, he has the potential to be a top passer once he gets more time. "It was a very close decision to make, almost as close as it could get," said head coach Howard Schnellenberger. "The fact that Rusty made such extraordinary progress in the spring and fall makes us think he's our best option out there."
- Frank Messina, RFr.
With good size, a nice arm, and surprising decision making ability for a young player, the 6-3 Messina worked his way up to number two on the depth chart coming out of spring ball and is still in the hunt for the starting job.
- Sean Clayton, Jr. - 31-57, 54%, 329 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT, 21 carries, 35 yds With a little bit of experience seeing time in nine games last season, the 6-5, 225-pound junior is a big passer with a live arm and good enough mobility with his 4.7 speed to crank out positive rushing yards. He stepped in late last year and led the way to a win over North Texas, but he was awful against FIU throwing three interceptions in the 52-6 loss.
- McKinson Souverain, Soph. - 5-15, 33%, 96 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT, 14 carries, 40 yds
By far the best athlete among the quarterback options, Souverain could see time at quarterback, running back and receiver. If he's not the team's fastest player, he's number two and will find a spot somewhere in the offense. With his average passing skills, he'll likely end up at receiver.
The rushing production wasn't there last season with a paltry 114 yards per game and six touchdowns. The potential is there to do far more with the top two leading rushers returning as well as do-it-all fullback Aaron Sanchez from a leg injury. DiIvory Edgecomb and Charles Pierre are small, quick backs who should do more this season now that they know what they're doing. B.J. Manley is a solid third option.
The key to the unit: Considering all the speed and quickness in the backfield, there have to be more big runs and far more overall production after the team gained 1,259 yards and averaged three yards per carry.
Running Back Rating: 4.5
- DiIvory Edgecomb, Soph. - 89 carries, 295 yds, 3.3 ypc, 1 TD, 11 catches, 114 yards, 10.4 ypc, 2 TD
Edgecomb saw his workload increase as last season went on highlighted by a 118-yard day against North Texas. While not the speed back that Charles Pierre is, he's plenty fast and dangerous in the open field. He has good deep ability taking a pass 66 yards for a touchdown in the opening day loss to Kansas when starting out the season at wide receiver.
- Fullback Aaron Sanchez, Sr
The return of multi-talented Sanchez from a thigh injury will be a big boost to the offense. The 220-pound senior missed all of last year after finishing second on the team with 173 yards and three touchdowns in 2004 to go along with 24 catches for 200 yards and two scores.
- Charles Pierre, Soph. - 145 carries, 517 yds, 3.6 ypc, 3 TD, 7 catches, 37 yds, 5.3 ypc
While not all that big at 5-9 and 195 pounds, Pierre packs surprising power to go along with his home run hitting speed. He led the team in rushing as a steady force throughout last season, but he didn't break off many big plays. He has the wheels to be far more dangerous.
- B.J. Manley, Jr. - 15 carries, 33 yds, 2.2 ypc, 8 catches, 101 yds, 12.6 ypc
Mostly a special teamer, Manley appeared to be on the verge of starting last preseason before the emergence of Charles Pierre and DiIvory Edgecomb. He's a shifty back with great hands as a receiver out of the backfield.
- Corddero Drummond, Fr.
The true freshman might be too good to redshirt. He has the best combination of size and speed in the backfield. He's 190 pounds, but he runs like a much bigger back.
- Fullback William Rose, RFr.
The 213-pound backup to Aaron Sanchez won't just be a blocker. He's a good power runner who could be used as a tailback if needed.
The Owls lose the top two receivers from last year, Thomas Parker and Darrion Porter-Isom, so Casey McGahee and Frantz Simeon have to shine as the new starters. McGahee started to come through big at the end of last year and should come close to replacing Parker's 20.1-yard per catch average, while Simeon is a dangerous inside receiver. They're both very, very light, so bigger backups Chris Bonner and Cortez Gent need to be a physical presence. The tight ends are used as big wide receivers, and there are two good ones in Jamari Grant and Jason Harmon.
The key to the unit: A number one go-to target has to emerge early on while Casey McGahee and Frantz Simeon have to use their speed to stretch the field and make defenses worry about the deep ball.
Receiver Rating: 4.5
- Casey McGahee, Sr. - 23 catches, 269 yds, 11.7 ypc, 1 TD
The former defensive back made the successful transition to wide receiver finishing third on the team in receiving and coming on over the final four games to be one of the team's best targets. He's not big at only 5-9 and 155 pounds, so he needs to use his tremendous speed to make more big plays at the outside X position.
- Frantz Simeon, Soph. - 18 catches, 274 yds, 15.2 ypc, 2 TD
While he'll play at inside Y position, the 5-10, 172-pound sophomore has the potential to be the team's top deep threat. He's tremendously fast with great hands, and now he has to show he can be a reliable target across the middle and has to open things up for the rest of the offense.
- Tight end Jamari Grant, RFr.
A big wide receiver more than a tight end, the 6-4, 177-pound Grant will line up on the line and be used as a tall short-range target. He's a great athlete who could be dangerous if wide receivers Casey McGahee and Frantz Simeon do their jobs and stretch the field.
- Cortez Gent, RFr.
A far bigger option than Casey McGahee at the X, the 6-2, 170-pound Gent has 4.6 speed and should be a dangerous number two option after a strong spring.
- Chris Bonner, Soph.
An excellent athlete and a bigger inside target than Frantz Simeon, the 6-3 Bonner will push for time as a third receiver as well as starting time at the X.
- Tight end Jason Harmon, Soph. - 1 catch, 10 yds
A physical 6-3 and 184 pounds, Harmon is also a good enough athlete to be used as a deep threat at tight end. He's a better blocker than Jamari Grant, but he's not going to dominate anyone.
The line had major issues last season getting no push for the running game while allowing 34 sacks. Things should be a little bit better even with a few new starters. Nello Faulk and Antes Perkins have the potential to be among the Sun Belt's stronger tackle tandems, while Xavier Shannon is a huge new starting center. The depth is lacking.
The key to the unit: The starting five has to develop right away and stay healthy. Continuity is a must for a better season.
Offensive Line Rating: 4
- OT Nello Faulk, Sr.
The former guard moved to center and then to tackle. He bulked up a bit getting up to 264 pounds, but he's still rangy with a 6-6 frame. That's not a bad thing with his long arms a plus in pass protection.
- OG Chris Munoz, Sr.
At 6-3 and 285 pounds, Munoz brings some much needed size to the left side of the line. He'll take over the left guard job replacing the 329-pound Nick Paris. He's a decent run blocker and has to be more productive than Paris was.
- C Xavier Shannon, Soph.
At 312 pounds, Shannon is one of the biggest players on the line. He's physical enough to play guard, but his build makes him a good anchor in the middle.
- OG Lance Barry, RFr.
Barry has to quickly become a reliable rock at right guard, where there was little production last season from Stetson Wilson. Consistency in the running game will be the key for Barry early on.
- OT Antes Perkins, Jr.
Perkins bulked up to 285 pounds last season and grew into one of the team's most consistent blockers. He's a physical presence who's expected to grow into a top all-around blocker in his second year in a starting role.
- T John Rizzo, Soph.
Rizzo filled in at both right guard and right tackle for a few starts last season taking over for Stetson Wilson at right guard over the final three games. His versatility will be big plus for a line that needs options.
- G Brandon Jackson, Soph.
Likely a starter once he's 100%, the 280-pound sophomore is back from an ankle injury that cost him all of last year. He likely would've been a starter on the right side.
- G Peter Pantelakos, Jr.
An interesting option up front at only 235 pounds, the junior is a smaller, quicker blocker who'll see time behind Chris Munoz on the left side.