Five questions facing FAU football


1. Is this the year Rusty Smith emerges as a nationally renowned quarterback?

In any other season, maybe. But not in 2009, when the past two Heisman Trophy winners -- Florida's Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma -- are back. Still, Smith -- who owns essentially every FAU passing record and is a four-year starter -- should contend for Sun Belt Conference and national awards. Along with Arkansas State's Corey Leonard, Smith was named the preseason all-conference co-offensive player of the year. He also is one of 19 candidates for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. At 6-5, 230 pounds, Smith has NFL size, but his performance this fall will go a long way in determining his 2010 NFL Draft fortunes.

2. Quarterback aside, what is FAU's greatest strength?

No debate: the tight end position. The Owls are loaded with talent. Last month, Sun Belt coaches named senior Jamari Grant to the preseason all-conference team. But Grant, who was second on the team with 45 catches for 642 yards and four touchdowns in 2008, might not be the best tight end on his own team. Jason Harmon is back for his redshirt-senior season after missing all of 2008 with a knee injury. Before the injury, Harmon had the same sort of the buzz around the conference as Grant does now. Throw in Darian Williams and Rob Housler, who might seek a medical redshirt, and fans can expect the Owls to employ a lot of multiple tight end sets this fall.

3. What will it take for FAU to compete for a conference championship?

A quick maturation by its inexperienced defense. The Owls lost eight of their 11 starters from a year ago, including middle linebacker Frantz Joseph, who led the team in tackles the previous two years. The top returners: defensive lineman Josh Savidge (28 tackles in 2008, including five for loss), cornerback Tarvoris Hill (one interception a year ago) and defensive back Ed Alexander (11 starts last season). Watch for South Plantation's Tavious Polo and senior Erick McIntosh for the other starting corner job. The Owls defense allowed 28.7 points and 178.7 rushing yards per game in 2008.

4. Who will lead the Owls in rushing in 2009?

Alfred Morris, who was a fullback a year ago. FAU's offense will rise or fall on the arm of Smith, but the Owls don't want to be one-dimensional. Last year, Charles Pierre and DiIvory Edgecomb combined to rush for 114.1 yards per game and 12 touchdowns. The bad news for FAU: They are both out of eligibility. Jeff Blanchard was supposed to be the next in line, but the senior tore his ACL in the spring and might miss the entire season. That, almost by default, elevates Morris to the role of featured back. In 2008, he had just 23 yards on seven carries.

5. Any chance this is Howard Schnellenberger's last year?

Not if he has anything to say about it. At age 75, he is the third-oldest coach in Division I, behind Joe Paterno (82) and Bobby Bowden (79). Yet he is under contract through 2011, and the belief in Boca Raton is that he will remain on the job as long as he desires if he remains in good health. Schnellenberger, most famous for leading the University of Miami to a national championship in 1983, has built the FAU program from scratch, and you better believe he wants to be on the sidelines when the school opens its new stadium in the next few years.