Team: Florida Atlantic
Play Western: Nov. 28, at Florida Atlantic
‘08 Record: 7-6
Coach: Howard Schnellenberger
Returning starters: six offense, three defense
The Buzz: Florida Atlantic started last season 1-5, then won six of its last seven games, starting with a 24-20 victory at Western.
The goal this season for the Eagles is to not dig the same hole that started with a debut 52-10 loss at Texas. Florida Atlantic opens 2009 at Nebraska, another Big 12 program with historic prestige and a strong home-field advantage.
Outlook: While the Eagles defense is in disarray after graduation took its toll at the end of last season, redshirt senior quarterback Rusty Smith will lend stability to the offense in his third year starting under center.
Smith, like the team as a whole, started off slow last season and had to build himself back to one of the country’s most prolific passers by year’s end. Smith didn’t match numbers from his Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year season in 2007, but he came awfully close, throwing for 3,224 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Assisting the fifth-year quarterback at wideout is Cortez Grant, the team’s leading wide receiver for past two seasons, but most expect tight end Jason Harmon to be a huge threat now that he’s back from an injury that left him out all of 2008.
The defense doesn’t expect to be as efficient. The secondary looks good with senior contributors at safety and cornerback, but there are some gaps to be filled from last season on the line and at linebacker.
How Western can win: With last season’s top running backs gone from FAU, a load of pressure will fall on Smith’s shoulders. Should Smith’s single-game completion percentage drop below average against Western, the Eagles don’t stand a chance thanks to a suspect defense faced with the task of stopping four capable Topper running backs.