Q&A with FAU beat writer Nelson

Each week at TideNation we will speak with a writer who covers one of Alabama's 2012 opponents. OwlAccess.com editor Marcus Nelson, who covers all things Florida Atlantic, stops by to break down the Owls and the game.

Question: For those who aren't familiar with the FAU program (or missed the heart attack the Owls gave Auburn in the first half last season), give us a rundown of coach Carl Pelini's philosophy.

Nelson:Former Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini was hired in December to completely revamp the FAU football program that had slipped in the past few seasons under FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger. The early returns is he is doing just that. The Owls will emphasize defense, which could be important when they play teams from BCS conferences -- and what contributed to a game which was closer than expected in FAU’s 30-14 loss to Auburn last season.

Q: What are the team's strengths and weaknesses, as you see them?

Nelson: FAU’s strength is its defensive front seven, which features several players who were recruited by bigger schools and can hold their own even against teams from some of the top conferences in the nation. The Owls’ biggest weaknesses are on the offensive side of the ball. The Owls’ offense was terrible last season, and that was with running back Alfred Morris, who was drafted by the Washington Redskins, in the backfield. The new coaching staff is changing the offensive scheme from Schnellenberger’s pro-style to a spread attack, but there really isn’t much reason to think the Owls’ will fare much better at moving the ball this season.

Q: How has the move to a spread been going?

Nelson: One would have to think the Owls will eventually be able to use the spread to showcase their speedy wide receivers After the spring, however, perhaps the best thing to say about the offense is that it’s a work in progress -- and there is plenty of work to be done.

Q: Who are a few players to watch for FAU, and why?

Nelson: Junior Randell Johnson is an athletic, hard-hitting linebacker who is one of the leaders of the Owls’ defense. He led the team with five sacks last season and will fit in well as FAU switches to a 4-3 defensive scheme. Running back Jonathan Wallace had a breakout spring and the junior college transfer will have a huge role after their leading returning rusher, Xavier Stinson, was recently kicked off the team for academic reasons. Another FAU player who could be making an impact by Sept. 22, is quarterback Melvin German. German, is a juco transfer who hasn’t shown up on campus, but it is expected he could win the quarterback battle very quickly, especially considering the competition. The Owls’ coaching staff believes German, a juco All-American, could provide the spark FAU desperately needs on offense.

Q: What has to happen for this to be a close game late?

Nelson: FAU will point to Louisiana-Monroe’s victory over Alabama in 2007 as proof that a Sun Belt team can pull the upset over the Crimson Tide. There also may have been some FAU teams in the past that could have been competitive with Alabama. But FAU’s program has all but bottomed-out and that’s the wrong time to be playing the Crimson Tide. If FAU’s defense could force some turnovers, perhaps it could be close late, but this game will likely be over quickly.