Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Conference realignment is basically minor league baseball
Conference realignment has always been with us, from the SEC emerging from the Southern Conference in the 1930s, to conferences like the Big 8 promoting programs like Colorado and Oklahoma State, to Florida State joining the ACC in the 1990s, to the ACC raiding the Big East in the early 2000s. But it picked up speed dramatically following the Big Ten's announcement of its intended expansion in late-2009.
As we've seen, realignment is based on two things: merit and potential. Merit is easy enough to understand. The Big 12 didn't exactly need to secure the Fort Worth market when it brought TCU aboard, but the Horned Frogs had turned into a stout, nationally relevant program while surfing through just about every mid-major conference, and their bona fides warranted promotion back to a BCS conference. And lord knows Louisville had earned its promotion from Conference USA to the Big East almost a decade ago. Utah, meanwhile, was just a couple of years removed from a BCS bowl title when the Pac-12 invited it to join.
Quite often, though, a conference's decision on which program to promote to its league comes not from merit or production, but from potential. That word can mean a couple of things, really. It could mean market potential -- Rutgers bringing "the New York market" (whatever that actually means) to the Big Ten, for instance -- or it could simply mean that the bones (and potential fanbase) of a program are strong, and that a promotion could make long-term sense even if it looks questionable in the short-term.
In this way, realignment is kind of like minor league baseball, where you've got low-upside journeymen who dominate at a certain level but probably aren't going to get called up because of their minimal potential. At the same time, you've got prospects who don't have to prove quite as much, at least in terms of results and statistics, before moving to the next level. Crash Davis versus Nuke LaLoosh, if you will.
Let's just say that, with a fancy new stadium, a prime location (for both recruits and cable subscribers), and minimal recent success, Florida Atlantic is probably more Nuke than Crash. The Owls improved to 3-9 and 115th in the F/+ rankings in Carl Pelini's first season in Boca Raton. That ended a four-year string of diminishing returns, from a 7-6 record in 2008, to 5-7 in 2009, to 4-8 in 2010, to 1-11 in 2011 (Howard Schnellenberger's final season). Winning 13 games and getting promoted from the Sun Belt to Conference USA, which is basically Double-A ball*.
The potential-versus-merit argument goes a long way toward explaining which teams Conference USA chose to pluck from the high-A ball Sun Belt recently. Here are the Sun Belt standings for the last three seasons (2010-12). The teams Conference USA took are in bold.
Sun Belt Standings (2010-12)
Arkansas State (19-5 conference record)
Florida International (13-11)
Western Kentucky (13-11)
Middle Tennessee (12-12)
North Texas (10-14)
Florida Atlantic (5-19)
CUSA also took Louisiana Tech (the most merit-based pick), Charlotte (which is building a football team from scratch), UTSA (which has spent one year at the FBS level), and Old Dominion (which revived its program in 2009). The two best recent Sun Belt teams (ASU and UL-Lafayette) are still in the Sun Belt, as is long-time SBC power Troy. Conference USA made its choices based on potential, and FAU benefited considerably.
At least, FAU might benefit long-term. In the short-term, it joins a conference that, despite the Sun Belt's recent on-field gains, is still a bit deeper overall. That's not a good thing for a team that just improved from the fifth-worst team in FBS (116th in 2012) to the 10th-worst (115th).
* Judging by how realignment has gone, that would make the New Big East (whatever it might be called) Triple-A and the ACC the majors. Yes, the ACC is the majors. It might be Toronto to the SEC's Yankees, but it is still the majors, and it has still only lost one team -- Maryland -- in the realignment process while pilfering six others from the Big East in the last decade.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 115|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|31-Aug||Wagner||7-3||W||14.8 - 29.0||L|
|8-Sep||at Middle Tennessee||17-31||L||24.2 - 39.5||L|
|15-Sep||at Georgia||20-56||L||18.3 - 49.6||L|
|22-Sep||at Alabama||7-40||L||10.7 - 32.0||L|
|29-Sep||North Texas||14-20||L||17.4 - 22.7||L|
|13-Oct||at UL-Monroe||14-35||L||15.3 - 28.9||L|
|20-Oct||at South Alabama||34-37||L||30.5 - 30.6||L|
|27-Oct||Troy||34-27||W||25.4 - 22.9||W|
|3-Nov||at Navy||17-24||L||22.3 - 30.0||L|
|10-Nov||at Western Kentucky||37-28||W||25.2 - 19.2||W|
|16-Nov||Florida International||24-34||L||21.8 - 32.0||L|
|1-Dec||UL-Lafayette||21-35||L||41.7 - 28.2||W|
|Points Per Game||20.5||107||30.8||85|
|Adj. Points Per Game||22.3||112||30.4||87|
2. That said, FAU was legitimately decent down the stretch
Here's what I said at the end of my 2012 FAU preview:
My advice to FAU fans: Keep your eyes off the scoreboard in 2012 and just look for signs of growth and optimism. For all we know, you might end up 2014 conference champions, but this fall probably won't be too much fun.
If you waited around long enough, you indeed found some signs of growth. Granted, it took a while, but over the last half of the season, Florida Atlantic was something approaching a decent team. The results did not necessarily reflect this, but the growth was real.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Opponent 33.6, FAU 16.8 (minus-16.8)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 6 games): FAU 27.8, Opponent 27.2 (plus-0.6)
Again, the goal of Adj. Points is to reflect how a team would have fared against a perfectly average team, with a perfectly average number of breaks, each week. Adj. Points suggest that FAU was actually an average (or slightly above average) team from late-October on. The Owls stunned both Troy and Western Kentucky, nearly took out Navy, and played well in a late loss to UL-Lafayette. The improvement was strong on the defensive side of the ball and dramatic on the offensive side. And while quarterback Graham Wilbert has graduated (which could stunt a little bit of the growth), one of the primary reasons for the offensive surge was junior receiver William Dukes (first 5 games: 18 catches, 224 yards; last 7 games: 45 catches, 755 yards), who is back in blue and red in 2013.
|Q1 Rk||104||1st Down Rk||96|
|Q2 Rk||122||2nd Down Rk||122|
|Q3 Rk||107||3rd Down Rk||87|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Stephen Curtis||6'3, 225||Jr.||*** (5.5)||4||10||37||40.0%||0||0||0||0.0%||3.7|
|Melvin German III||6'2, 210||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Quez Johnson||6'1, 225||Jr.||** (5.3)|
3. Is there a quarterback?
Graham Wilbert took too many sacks and didn't really go anywhere with most of his passes (10.8 yards per completion, 9.3 to players not named Dukes), but he turned into a relatively efficient, mistake-free hub for the FAU passing game in 2012. His TD-to-INT ratio was lovely, as was his 64 percent completion rate. He avoided disaster in the passing game, at least, but he's gone. In 2013, it appears that there is a three-man race for the starting quarterback job between junior Stephen Curtis, senior Melvin German III and junior college transfer Quez Johnson. Dukes should make the winner's job relatively easy, but the winner will still have to avoid disaster. We'll see.
(Johnson has spent quite a bit of time with the first string, for what that's worth.)
|Jonathan Wallace||RB||6'1, 210||Sr.||NR||175||668||3.8||3.4||0||-18.2|
|Damian Fortner||RB||5'10, 200||Sr.||** (5.1)||90||313||3.5||3.8||0||-12.1|
|Martese Jackson||RB||5'6, 165||Sr.||** (5.4)||47||224||4.8||6.9||0||-6.4|
|Travis Jones||RB||5'11, 190||Sr.||** (5.3)||14||80||5.7||13.2||0||-1.1|
|Stephen Curtis||QB||6'3, 225||Jr.||*** (5.5)||10||34||3.4||0.8||0||-3.1|
|William Dukes||WR-Z||6'4, 190||Jr.||** (5.4)||94||63||978||67.0%||10.4||23.6%||59.6%||10.4||117.1|
|DeAndre Richardson (2011)||WR-X||6'2, 180||Sr.||** (5.2)||71||32||269||45.1%||3.8||21.7%||66.2%||3.9||58.9|
|Byron Hankerson||WR-W||6'0, 205||Sr.||*** (5.7)||51||27||344||52.9%||6.7||12.8%||60.8%||6.7||41.2|
|Jonathan Wallace||TE||6'4, 230||Sr.||** (5.4)||30||21||84||70.0%||2.8||7.5%||40.0%||2.4||10.1|
|Damian Fortner||RB||6'1, 210||Sr.||NR||25||21||141||84.0%||5.6||6.3%||32.0%||6.3||16.9|
|Alex Deleon||RB||5'10, 200||Sr.||** (5.1)||25||13||77||52.0%||3.1||6.3%||64.0%||3.0||9.2|
|Travis Jones||TE||6'4, 210||Jr.||** (5.2)||23||18||117||78.3%||5.1||5.8%||52.2%||5.1||14.0|
|Jenson Stoshak||RB||5'11, 190||Sr.||** (5.3)||22||15||259||68.2%||11.8||5.5%||50.0%||12.0||31.0|
|Marcus Cunningham||WR-X||6'1, 176||So.||** (5.3)||10||4||33||40.0%||3.3||2.5%||60.0%||3.3||4.0|
|Martese Jackson||WR-Z||6'0, 175||Jr.||** (5.3)||3||2||12||66.7%||4.0||0.8%||33.3%||7.3||1.4|
|Terrell Mitchell||RB||5'6, 165||Sr.||** (5.4)||3||2||8||66.7%||2.7||0.8%||66.7%||2.4||1.0|
|Anthony Russell||TE||6'5, 255||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Rodney Whitehead||WR||5'10, 175||Jr.||** (5.3)|
|Trey Hendrickson||TE||6'4, 222||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Kalib Woods||WR||6'3, 185||Fr.||** (5.4)|
4. Learn William Dukes' name
One way to understand a receiver's impact is to compare his production to that of his teammates'. If your receiving corps is loaded with great players, and you average 10.0 yards per target, you might be good, but you might be benefiting a lot from the players around you. Or, in William Dukes' case, if your fellow receivers are mostly non-existent, and you still figure out a way to average 10.4 yards per target with no help from anybody else, you are potentially an outright stud.
In the last seven games of the season, passes to Dukes found their mark 45 of 69 times (65 percent) for 755 yards, an average of 10.9 yards per target. Passes to everybody else in an FAU uniform were 135-for-212 (64 percent) for 1,314 yards, an average of just 6.2 yards per target. Dukes was a one-man show, emerging in the middle o the season as a low-efficiency, high-explosiveness guy (he caught just five of 11 passes for 119 yards against South Alabama, for example), then dramatically increasing his efficiency late. In the last four games, he caught 29 of 40 passes (73 percent) for 499 yards (12.5 per target).
One receiver can only make so much of a difference for an offense, especially one that features a new quarterback, iffy running backs, an unproven supporting cast of receivers, and a new line. But one stud is better than none.
|Andrew Czuprynski||LG||36 career starts|
|Joseph Bailey||RT||23 career starts|
|Jimmie Colley||C||20 career starts|
|DeAndre Williams||LT||6'5, 290||Sr.||** (5.0)||12 career starts|
|Ricaldo Henry||RG||12 career starts|
|Mustafa Johnson||C||6'3, 295||Jr.||** (5.4)||11 career starts|
|Jordan Sessa||LG||3 career starts|
|Erik Hansen||RG||1 career start|
|Robert Nasiff||LT||6'4, 265||So.||** (5.4)|
|Mike Marsaille||RG||6'5, 300||So.||** (5.3)|
|Vinny Davino||RT||6'5, 260||So.||** (5.3)|
|Stern Vile||OL||6'5, 335||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Karl James||RG||6'1, 285||Jr.||** (4.9)|
|Dillon DeBoer||LT||6'5, 245||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Isaac Edwards||LG||6'4, 280||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Braden Lyons||RT||6'5, 295||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Austin Bland||OL||6'3, 275||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
5. No experience? No problem
At the end of 2012, FAU had eight offensive linemen with starting experience. Six are now gone. This could spell disaster for a unit that was achieving at a high level (without the stud recruits to back that level up). But for an FAU line that failed to produce opportunities for its backs? Perhaps some new blood is a good thing. FAU was pretty good at holding up against blitzes (the short passing game probably didn't hurt), and it actually managed to convert in short-yardage situations (Power Success Rate) pretty well. But this wasn't a line good enough to worry about losing players.
|Q1 Rk||85||1st Down Rk||91|
|Q2 Rk||75||2nd Down Rk||75|
|Q3 Rk||63||3rd Down Rk||51|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Trevon Coley||DT||6'2, 225||So.||*** (5.5)||12||28.0||4.4%||2.5||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Brandin Bryant||DT||6'2, 260||So.||*** (5.5)||12||21.0||3.3%||4.5||0.5||0||2||0||0|
|Martin Wright||DE||6'4, 250||Sr.||NR||12||20.5||3.2%||4||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Cory Henry||DE||6'3, 238||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||19.5||3.0%||2.5||2||0||0||0||0|
|Kayvon Sherrill||DT||6'3, 279||Sr.||NR||9||7.5||1.2%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Andrew Stryffeler||DE||6'5, 260||Sr.||** (5.1)||6||6.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Robinson Eugene||DE||6'5, 263||So.||** (5.2)||2||2.0||0.3%||2||0||0||0||0||1|
|Derek Butcher||DT||6'4, 295||So.||** (5.4)|
|Shalom Ogbonda||DE||6'4, 245||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
6. A 225-pound tackle
Trevon Coley was one of FAU's more highly touted recent recruits, and along with Brandin Bryant (also a freshman in 2012), he carved out a nice on a line that wasn't completely awful, at least in holding up against the run. (It wasn't good, mind you, but it was Top 100, which is something, and it was Top 50 in short yardage situations). He is also 225 pounds, smaller than, basically, all of FAU's defensive ends. His presence in the lineup makes for an interesting line: on the spring two-deep, FAU's defensive ends average 6'4, 253 pounds, and its defensive tackles average 6'3, 265. With Coley and Bryant in the lineup, you're basically looking at four equally-sized men across the line.
To account for this, head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis, whom Pelini plucked from Miami (Ohio) -- a merit-versus-potential move for Rekstis, if you will -- attacked from just about everywhere last year. Four linebackers logged at least three tackles for loss (impressive for what was basically a 4-2-5 defense), and seven defensive backs got at least one. The experimentation was hit-or-miss, as FAU sank from 83rd in Def. F/+ to 104th, but on a per-play basis, things could have been worse considering the size disadvantages.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Adarius Glanton||LB||6'1, 215||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||57.0||8.9%||5.5||1||2||1||0||0|
|Andrae Kirk||LB||6'2, 225||Jr.||** (5.2)||12||47.0||7.3%||4||0||0||3||1||1|
|Randell Johnson||LB||6'4, 230||Sr.||** (5.2)||10||14.0||2.2%||3||2||0||0||0||0|
|Freedom Whitfield||LB||6'2, 200||So.||** (5.4)||12||10.0||1.6%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Paul Cecere||LB||6'1, 210||RSFr.||NR||3||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Josh Ballesteros||LB||6'2, 210||So.||** (5.3)|
|Robert Relf||LB||6'3, 220||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
7. An interesting set of linebackers
FAU's spring two-deep lists three linebackers, which suggests that FAU might be moving more toward a standard 4-3 and utilizing a third linebacker more than a fifth defensive back. In the Sun Belt, you could pretty much stay in the nickel at all times. In Conference USA, you have to be semi-competent against a ton of different attacks. While there might be some depth issues with such a move, the level of potential is strong, especially in returning senior Adarius Glanton.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jeremy McKnight||FS||5'10, 180||Sr.||** (5.4)||9||38.0||5.9%||2||0||1||2||0||1|
|Keith Reaser||CB||6'0, 190||Sr.||** (5.1)||12||37.5||5.8%||1.5||0||2||3||0||1|
|Cre'von LeBlanc||NB||5'11, 175||So.||** (5.4)||9||36.0||5.6%||1||0||0||4||0||0|
|Winfred Strickland||SS||6'0, 185||Sr.||** (5.3)||10||23.5||3.7%||1||0||1||1||0||0|
|Christian Milstead||NB||5'10, 170||Sr.||NR||12||21.5||3.3%||1||0||0||4||0||0|
|D'Joun Smith||CB||5'11, 175||Jr.||NR||11||20.5||3.2%||0||0||1||8||0||0|
|Damian Parms||SS||6'2, 195||Jr.||** (5.4)||10||16.5||2.6%||2||0||0||1||0||0|
|Sharrod Neasman||CB||6'0, 190||So.||NR||10||10.0||1.6%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|David Lozandler||S||6'0, 210||Jr.||** (5.2)||6||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|A.J. Burton||DB||5'10, 175||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jay Warren||DB||6'0, 210||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Lester Thomas||DB||5'10, 165||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Tyler Henderson||DB||5'11, 190||Fr.||** (5.4)|
|Robert Miller||DB||6'2, 180||Fr.||** (5.4)|
8. An even more interesting set of defensive backs
Look at three stats above: FAU ranked an awful 114th in Adj. Sack Rate but still ranked just 81st in Passing S&P+ and 52nd in Passing Success Rate+. That suggests that FAU's secondary was both aggressive and rather effective in 2012. The DBs played close to the line of scrimmage a lot and got their hands on a lot of passes -- not only did seven players manage at least one tackle for loss, but five defensed at least three passes (and a sixth defensed two). With nine of last year's top 10 returning and a load of interesting freshmen, FAU should manage to have one of the better secondaries in Conference USA from Day 1. It will only mean so much if the front four doesn't improve, but it's something.
|Sean Kelly||5'10, 186||So.||68||39.9||5||6||16||32.4%|
|Mitch Anderson||5'11, 186||Sr.||44||62.1||12||27.3%|
|Sean Kelly||5'10, 186||So.||6||62||2||33.3%|
|Mitch Anderson||5'11, 186||Sr.||23-24||4-7||57.1%||3-7||42.9%|
|Travis Jones||KR||5'11, 190||Sr.||11||20.1||0|
|D'Joun Smith||KR||5'11, 175||Jr.||10||21.4||0|
|Martese Jackson||KR||5'6, 165||Sr.||7||19.3||0|
|Travis Jones||PR||5'11, 190||Sr.||19||7.9||0|
|Special Teams F/+||69|
|Field Goal Pct||122|
|Kick Returns Avg||105|
|Punt Returns Avg||88|
9. Wanted: place-kicker
The return game was decent, and the kick coverage could have been worse, but FAU needed every point it could get in 2012, and Mitch Anderson's field goal kicking was pretty atrocious. He missed three of five field goals in a three-point loss to South Alabama and went 0-for-2 against UL-Lafayette in the season finale
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|7-Sep||at East Carolina||81|
|14-Sep||at South Florida||63|
|16-Nov||at Southern Miss||87|
|23-Nov||New Mexico State||123|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||109|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||78|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / +4.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (5, 7)|
10. Welcome to Double-A
It's not like Conference USA is that much tougher than the Sun Belt by any means, but it does bear mentioning that, even if you see FAU improving again this fall (and I do), improvement into the No. 100 range could still result in the Owls playing only 3-4 games against teams inferior to them. They play six teams projected 87th or better and only three projected 105th or worse. But the home-road splits are pretty friendly; Middle Tennessee and FIU both come to Boca Raton in swing games that could make the difference between 3-4 wins an 5-6.
Chances are, FAU is looking at another 3-9 or 4-8 season -- there just aren't enough offensive weapons -- but Pelini made serious inroads over the latter half of 2012. And if there is a second-year surge into the Top 80-90 range, then a bowl bid could be in the cards. It isn't bloody likely, but it is something to shoot for in FAU's first season post-promotion.