BOCA RATON, Fla. – There's a framed No. 1 jersey hanging on the wall of Carl Pelini's office at Florida Atlantic, commemorating his first win as coach of the Owls.
Only two other wins followed the rest of the way, but to Pelini, the wins and losses were not the story of his first season with FAU.
Instead, his opening year as Howard Schnellenberger's successor was largely spent setting up how Pelini always envisioned a program would be, with no detail overlooked. How to practice. When to practice. How to eat. When to eat. And now those building blocks — the basic principles of Pelini's plan — are largely in place the coach has found himself able to focus more on actual football.
"We still have to coach everything, but at least there's a basic foundation for everything," Pelini said. "Last year we're not only coaching schemes, we were coaching how to practice, what our expectations were for practice, during meetings, during the day, nutrition, everything. This year, in Year 2, you've got some veterans who get it.
"I've spent five times more time in front of the film, not having to worry about just the administration of the program this year. No comparison."
Coming off a 3-9 season and moving into Conference USA from the Sun Belt, the growing pains will almost certainly continue popping up for the Owls in 2013. But there is a sense of calmness in one respect around the Owls, in that the transition to Pelini's ways is now basically complete.
"Basically, we know what we're supposed to be doing," wide receiver Daniel McKinney said.
Practices during training camp have been much more brisk this summer than a year ago, which gives Pelini hope that the Owls will be able to play at a quicker tempo this season.
He said the difference between this camp and what was on the field at FAU last summer is "night and day," and his players agree.
"I think we'll be a different team this year," offensive lineman Mustafa Johnson said. "I think we'll be a better team this year. I'm excited about the season and I'm sure that if you talk to anyone within the program they're excited about the season and the possibilities we have in front of us. We have a chance to do something special."
Five things to watch during the Owls' season:
1. "ENDURE": That's one of the buzzwords around Owls' camp this summer, for good reason. Yes, FAU starts at Miami and East Carolina, part of a stretch where the Owls play five of their first six games on the road. But watch the Owls in November — if they remain healthy, their last four games might be more than a little bit compelling, considering three of those games are at home and that group of opponents went a combined 6-42 last season.
2. QB CHASE: FAU's Week 1 starting quarterback last season may be the team's long snapper this season. Such would suggest that the quarterback race has been more than a bit intriguing for the Owls, who have had a legitimate four-player battle at the position throughout camp. Junior college transfer Melvin German was thought as the frontrunner at one time, though freshmen DJ Juste and Greg Hankerson have also had their moments this summer. It wouldn't be a big surprise if the Owls get to the Miami opener with no one having a firm grasp on the job.
3. DUKES' NUMBERS: Somewhere along the way last season, William Dukes figured out how to be a big-play receiver. He had 24 catches for 424 yards in the final three games of 2012, and his two-touchdown performance in the season finale matched his TD output for his entire collegiate career to that point. Dukes will have a new quarterback getting him the ball this season, but he'll likely remain the No. 1 choice for the Owls' passing game.
4. PLUGGING HOLES: The Owls started 1-5 last season, getting outscored 185-79. The second half of the season, admittedly against easier competition, they were outscored 185-167. If the defense finds a way to be more consistent, especially in Conference USA games, the Owls might just wind up stealing a couple more wins.
5. SPECIAL TEAMS: FAU was one of only three teams in the nation last year to miss more than half of the field goals it attempted, going an abysmal 8 for 17 in those situations. It's simply got to be better in 2013.
Predicted finish in Conference USA's East Division: Sixth.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/