The FAU Review

Wesley Mize breaks down Middle Tennessee's first opponent, the FAU Owls.

The time is now. The wait is over. Middle Tennessee football is back! The Blue Raiders are coming off a historic season and expectations are higher than ever. The first step to living up to those expectations comes this weekend when Middle travels to Florida Atlantic to take on the Owls.

Quarterback Rusty Smith leads an Owls squad that returns 17 starters from the 2006 squad that finished the year 5-7. FAU was on the wrong end of four beat downs to start the season last year but finished the year winning five of eight. Some national experts have labeled the Owls as a dark horse candidate for the New Orleans Bowl this season.

Smith, a sophomore, enters this season as the undisputed starting quarterback after splitting time at the helm last season. Smith was an accurate passer in his first season completing 56 percent of his passes and throwing no interceptions in his final two games.

Smith has some key weapons from last season returning in 2007, but wide receiver Frantz Simeon who caught a team-high 35 balls in 2006 will be sitting out this season due to academic reasons. The Owls return running back Charles Pierre who led the team in rushing with 719 yards last season.

Florida Atlantic returns 10 starters on the defensive side of the ball. That's good news for FAU considering the Owls were a respectable 60th in the nation in total defense. The defensive line and linebacker corps return every starter from 2006 while three of the four secondary members return this season.

The downside of returning the entire defensive line and linebacker corps is that the Owls allowed a Sun Belt high 164 rushing yards per game last year. The secondary unit led the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense in 2006.

The coaching staff regards cornerback Corey Small as a shutdown corner. Last season he intercepted four passes while recording 36 tackles. The Owls plan to utilize Small's ability by calling more blitz packages on defense this season.

The special teams unit is a concern for the Owls as kicker Warley Leroy had his share of struggles last season. Leroy, a junior, connected on 9-of-14 kicks last season; however, he was only 5-of-9 on kicks outside of 30 yards.

Coach Howard Schnellenberger hopes to guide FAU to New Orleans this season. Schnellenberger is in his seventh season as coach of the Owls and has a record of 32-37 in his tenure.

One more year of experience will serve the Owls well in 2007. Six of the projected offensive starters are freshmen or sophomores. Most believe this season will be a successful year for FAU, but 2008 is the target year for the Owls to win the Sun Belt.

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