FLORIDA ATLANTIC OWLS
Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga., Sept. 15
Coach: Carl Pelini (first year as a college head coach).
Last year: 1-11 (0-8 Sun Belt).
Best win: 38-35 over sad-sack UAB (though you could make the case they actually played better in a closer-than-expected 30-14 loss at Auburn).
Worst loss: The season finale, a 26-0 home loss to UL-Monroe and an utterly inappropriate way to conclude the coaching career of the legendary Howard Schnellenberger.
Returning starters: 15 (six offense, eight defense, one special teams).
Stock watch for 2012: Steady, though it's not like they could get much worse. The defense should get a shot in the arm from the fiery new head coach, who helped resurrect a Nebraska defense that had completely wasted away under Bill Callahan. It's the offense, though, that needs the most help after finishing next-to-last in Division I-A in scoring and dead last in total yardage last season. And that offense is attempting to move to the spread, which makes their task doubly difficult. If Pelini can coax even three wins out of this team, it'd be seen as a sign that he's got the program moving in the right direction.
Best-case scenario (from the Dawgs' perspective): The offense breaks the half-century mark and the defense pitches a shutout, giving Georgia some momentum as it heads into a battle with Vanderbilt that's suddenly become plenty heated. Both of those goals are attainable -- Georgia's running game should be able to call its shot against a way-undersized D-line that's moving to a 4-3 alignment, while the Bulldog defense should have no trouble containing an Owl offense that's basically starting from square one. If all goes as planned, there won't be a single UGA first-stringer on the field five minutes into the third quarter.
Worst-case scenario: Weary from the previous week's road trip to Missouri, the Dawgs let FAU hang around well into the second half. Whether the Dawgs are riding high after a big SEC-opening win in Columbia or smarting from an upset loss, FAU qualifies as a classic "sandwich" game, considering that the following week's matchup with Vandy has somehow turned into an emotional grudge match. Georgia isn't above playing sloppy in these sorts of early-season bodybag games, so if the rebuilt offensive line falters or the short-handed secondary gives up some big plays to the Owls' QB (whoever that ends up being), this matchup could turn into something a little different than the layup Bulldog Nation likely expects.