Carl Pelini begins his head coaching career by trying to turnaround a Florida Atlantic program that won just one game in 2011.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/5/12, 1:21 PM EDT
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#120 Florida Atlantic
Sun Belt PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Carl Pelini, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Brian Wright | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pete Rekstis
The Owls football program scored a grand success on Oct. 15, 2011, with the official unveiling of its sparkling new on-campus stadium with a view of the Atlantic Ocean.
Unfortunately, that was the only time that the home team scored that day.
FAU’s embarrassing 20–0 loss Western Kentucky, in which it crossed midfield only twice, was merely the lowest point of a season that had precious few offensive highs. Six times in their 11 losses, the Owls scored seven points or less, and none of the other 119 teams in the FBS accrued fewer yards.
Now Alfred Morris, FAU’s career rushing leader, is gone, as is the old-school pro-style system. The spread is in. It is endorsed by new coach Carl Pelini, and it will be choreographed by former Montana State coordinator Brian Wright, whose offenses in the FCS produced plenty of points with a balanced run-pass ratio.
So, while Graham Wilbert is back — after an unimpressive debut as the starting quarterback — the 6'6" fifth-year senior was in a battle for snaps all spring, and figures to be through the fall. There isn’t much experience at the skill positions, and the situation got worse when senior (and former fullback) Xavier Stinson was dismissed from the team. The coaching staff has high hopes for tight end Nexon Dorvilus and receivers DeAndre Richardson, Marcus Cunningham and William Dukes. But, clearly, no one should expect explosiveness immediately.
After improving from miserable to something still far short of mediocre in 2011, this unit will undergo major changes in 2012. Actually, it underwent one unexpected change during the offseason.
Marvin Sanders, the former secondary coach on Pelini’s successful staff at Nebraska, was initially hired to spearhead the team’s transition to a 4-3. But Sanders quit to become the defensive backs coach at USC, and Pelini reached out to Pete Rekstis, whose was the coordinator at Miami (Ohio) last season.
Rekstis will have eight returning starters, though it was made clear early in camp that no jobs are necessarily safe.
Jimmy Jean is a good athlete for his size on the defensive line. There’s some stability in the linebacking corps: Randell Johnson (4.5 sacks) will be expected to apply pressure, while David Hinds is one of the team’s surest tacklers. In the defensive backfield, Keith Reaser is a hard hitter, and Treon Howard showed good signs in his first season as a starter.
The Owls weren’t often in position to score, so Vinny Zaccario was limited to 11 field goal attempts, seven of which he made. Marcelo Bonani replaces Mickey Groody, who punted a ridiculous 219 times over the past four seasons.
Howard Schnellenberger will be long revered in Boca Raton, as he is in Coral Gables, for what he did to establish a program. Yet, while he built what would become a perennial power on the field at the University of Miami, his legacy at FAU will be the field itself. The product on it has slipped over the past five years, and now it’s up to Pelini, who has only been a head coach at the high school level, to reverse the direction. He replaced all but one assistant, and he has tossed out the old schemes on offense and defense.
“We have come a long way,” Pelini says. “We still have a long way to go, though.”
That will be evident this season, especially in visits to Alabama and Georgia. Some Sun Belt progress would be sufficient.