FAU opens with a fresh start in a new conference with a new coach

D.A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com
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Since Lane Kiffin’s departure to the SEC in 2019, Florida Atlantic University has not seen a winning record in the past three seasons. But with numerous modifications that the program has faced over the past year, the 2023 could prove interesting.

One of those adjustments include a fresh new coach leading the Owls.

Tom Herman will enter his first year as head coach for FAU in 2023. Herman holds a 54-22 record as head coach at Texas and Houston and is 5-0 in bowl games.

Herman was fired by Texas following the 2020 season, finishing with a 32-18 overall record, and had a stint with the Chicago Bears in 2021 before being hired by FAU in 2022.

His objective now is to attempt to resurrect FAU’s program, which under Willie Taggart had only won five games in each of the previous three seasons.

The Owls went 5-7 in 2022, including 4-4 in the Conference USA. Now, they have shifted to the American Athletic Conference – along with Charlotte, North Texas, Rice, Alabama-Birmingham and Texas-San Antonio — and will face new teams like Tulane, South Florida, Memphis and Temple.

But will the Owls make a statement in 2023 in a new conference with a new head coach and lots of fresh talent?

Previewing the offense

After N’Kosi Perry – who completed 215 of 371 of his passes for 2,712 yards, 25 touchdowns and five interceptions last year — left for the Canadian Football League and Willie Taggart Jr. transferred to Western Kentucky, it was up in the air with who would be the next leader on the offense.

FAU took to the transfer portal and picked up Daniel Richardson from Central Michigan and Casey Thompson from Nebraska.

There hasn’t yet been a decision made on who would be the new face of the offense, but Herman likes the talent in the quarterback room.

“We’re headed in the right direction in that room,” Herman said after the Owls first practice on Aug. 3, “and it’s gonna be fun to watch to see how it plays out.”

Richardson threw for 1,988 yards and 15 touchdowns at Central Michigan while Thompson had 17 touchdowns and 2,407 yards through the air with the Cornhuskers. Thompson, a graduate, was coached by Herman at Texas from 2018 to 2020 prior to Nebraska.

But whoever earns the starting job will get to work with some of the teams best returning starters on offense.

Larry McCammon III had more than 1,000 rushing yards last season and he returns to the team for his fourth season, poised to assist in making FAU a top contender in their new conference. Zuberi Mobley, who amassed 534 rushing yards for three touchdowns will also return to the team with the addition of Central Michigan transfer running back Kobe Lewis.

The offense did lose Jahmal Edrine, who was second on the team in receiving yards (570) and touchdowns (six), to Purdue through the portal. But LaJohntay Wester comes back as their leading receiver, who led the team with 719 receiving yards last season and eight touchdowns, along with Je’Quan Burton and Tony Johnson.

The offensive line was a strong unit last year and will likely be good this year as tackle Chaz Neal and guard Marquice Robinson enter another year with the Owls.

Previewing the defense

Florida Atlantic has a lot of returners on defense, but the Owls allowed 425 yards and 39 points per game last season. They were 19th worst in the country in yards per play and 25th worst in yards per game. Additionally, 15 players combined for just 18 sacks last season.

But after reuniting with new defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni, who was hired in December 2022 and was previously a defensive analyst at Auburn, there could be a new look to the Owls defense in 2023.

And with the return of some key starters on the defense, as well as the addition of a new talent, it’s possible that there could be a complete turnaround.

The Owls added freshman edge Richard Thomas from Indiana. The Fort Lauderdale native was a four-star prospect in high school, according to ESPN, and ranked No. 27 nationally as a defensive end and No. 42 in Florida.

All of their pass rushers return to the team including Courtney McBride and Chris Jones on the edge and Evan Anderson and Latrell Jean in the middle.

Redshirt senior safety Armani-Eli Adams is likely to fill in for the loss of safety Teja Young to Ole Miss. Adams led the defense in total tackles last year (69) and had one interception, seven pass breakups and one forced fumble.

Linebacker Eddie Williams came in second (65) and safety Dwight Toombs also returns – he led the team with three interceptions and came in third with 64 tackles.