No. 5: The Florida Atlantic Owls
The American Athletic Conference is going through a bit of transition year, as three of its top programs in Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF are off the join the Big 12. In response, the league chose to make some major additions. Six new faces join the conference: UTSA, North Texas, Rice, Charlotte, UAB, and FAU.
Despite the loses of some of its biggest brands, this is still the top G5 league college football has to offer.
Defending champ Tulane is still around after becoming the darlings of the 2022 season and could be a force yet again. UTSA was dominant in Conference USA the last two years and now is a legit contender with stud QB Frank Harris still in San Antonio. And SMU always has potential to impress with it’s prime location and resources.
But a team beyond that top tier who could be very interesting this season is FAU. The Owls are amongst the group of new members, and as they make the move into a new conference, they have a new man in charge, a name you’re likely familiar with.
Tom Herman, the former HC of Texas and Houston, is now down in Boca Raton to takeover a program that’s got quite a bit of potential. FAU’s location makes it an attractive destination for recruits, and the AAC gives it more of a spotlight than it previously had. We’re just a few years removed from Lane Kiffin leading the Owls to multiple 11-win, conference title seasons. You can win here.
And it’s possible Herman could have them winning in his first season. FAU went 5-7 last season in their final year under Willie Taggart, but they were fairly unlucky, suffering four losses by three points or less.
They were likely better than the final record indicated, and now with 18 starters returning, and presumably, some better coaching under Herman, this team could take a nice step forward in 2023.
Casey Thompson transfers in at QB after stints at Texas and Nebraska. He’s had an up-and-down career as a passer but has still posted mostly solid numbers. Reuniting with his old coach should serve him well.
And he’ll have a talented group around him. 1,000-yard rusher Larry McCammon returns, as does leading receiver LaJohntay Wester. The OL group is experienced and one of the better units in the G5. Herman has produced some dangerous offenses over the years and has the pieces to field another in Boca.
FAU’s potential hinges on the defense.
They were inconsistent on that side of the ball in 2022, looking strong in wins but pretty abysmal in losses. However, 10 starters are back. If that group can simply be solid this season, it might be enough for a really nice season assuming Herman can maximize the offense.
The Owls have a tough non-conference slate, hosting Ohio (more on them later) and making road trips to Clemson and Illinois. But their AAC schedule is pretty manageable, and they get both UTSA and Tulane at home. Tom Herman is a better coach than his tenure at Texas likely suggested (coaching the Longhorns tends to do that).
There’s a chance he impresses in year one at FAU.