IRVING, Texas -- FAU struggled in its first season under coach Carl Pelini.
Pelini is hoping more familiarity among his players and coaches will help the Owls’ first season in Conference USA go much smoother.
FAU, picked to finish sixth in the conference’s East Division ahead of only rival FIU, opens the season against the University of Miami on Aug. 30 at Sun Life Stadium. It is part of a brutal opening slate that includes five of its first six games on the road, including three conference games.
“It’s a great challenge to face different teams and go to different venues,” Pelini said. “Our players have invested a lot in the past year and a half to have a good season. I think you’ll see that start to pay dividends this season.”
One of the most interesting story lines heading into the team’s upcoming fall practices is the quarterback competition.
Senior Melvin German III and junior college transfer Jaquez Johnson have emerged as the two leading candidates for the job of replacing last season’s starter Graham Wilbert.
“They’re two guys who are very similar,” Pelini said. “They’re big physical guys who can run and have live arms. In the spring, I may have put Melvin ahead because he had an extra year in the program. But Jaquez had that experience in the spring and it should be a great competition and they’ll make each other better.”
FAU’s defense must find a way to pressure the passer more — something it struggled with last season. FAU had only 12 sacks last season — the fifth-fewest among FBS schools.
Senior Randell Johnson (North Miami High), junior Andrae Kirk (Miami Central High), a preseason All-Conference selection and senior Adarius Glanton lead the linebackers. The secondary is anchored by Miami Killian grad Keith Reaser at cornerback.
“The whole team didn’t just come into [Conference USA] to be here…we came to make an impact,” Johnson said. “I feel like we can do that this year. We’re doing very well and we want to put FAU back on the map.”
Aside from Pelini and FIU’s Ron Turner, four other Conference USA coaches have coached at state schools — UTSA’s Larry Coker (Miami), Tulane’s Curtis Johnson (UM), Louisiana Tech’s Skip Holtz (USF) and Marshall’s Doc Holliday (UF).
Coker, who was proudly sporting his UM 2001 national championship ring, is in a much different coaching situation these days than he was at UM.
Coker is in his third season at the UTSA, which joins C-USA this season after a season in the WAC. The Roadrunners are still not a full FBS member school and will not be bowl eligible until 2014.
UTSA went 8-4 and finished fourth in the WAC last season, and Coker is 12-10 in his two seasons at a relatively new program that despite its infancy gets to play in San Antonio’s Alamodome (65,000 capacity) and averaged 38,000 in attendance during the past two seasons.
“I talked to Howard Schnellenberger before I got the job about building a program from scratch,” Coker said. “He said it’s one of the greatest things I’m ever going to do. But it’s definitely a challenge. I think the fertile recruiting environment in Texas and the Alamodome give us a big advantage.”
Johnson, UM’s receivers coach from 1996-2005, is in his second year at Tulane and preparing the team for its final season in Conference USA.
“I usually have my Super Bowl ring on one finger and national title ring on the other,” Johnson said. “My wife told me to wear my wedding ring to this so that’s what I brought to this.”