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FAU at East Carolina

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Editor's Note: Joe Nelson has started on fire in college football by posting a perfect 5-0 (+500) opening weekend. Purchase Joe's Week 2 winners here on VegasInsider.com.

College football and ESPN concede that the NFL will dominate Thursday night with the big opening night game between the Ravens and the Broncos. There is a college game being played Thursday on the new FS1, though this Conference USA opener is sure to get little national attention. Here is a look at the Thursday game between Florida Atlantic and East Carolina.

Matchup: Florida Atlantic Owls at East Carolina Pirates
Venue: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina (grass)
Date: Thursday, September 5, 2013
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET - FS1
Line: East Carolina -21, Over/Under 54
Last Meeting: None

East Carolina is one of the holdovers and one of the 2013 favorites in the new-look Conference USA. After winning last week against Old Dominion, conference play will start up Thursday night before two big non-conference challenges against prominent ACC teams to close out September. East Carolina finished 8-5 last season despite losing its bowl game and head coach Ruffin McNeill has a veteran team back in action for his fourth season leading the Pirates.

Last week, the Pirates won 52-38 at home against Old Dominion, a team transitioning to the FBS level. The Monarchs won 11 games last season, so it was certainly a decent opening test for East Carolina and the Pirates are a bigger favorite this week despite this being a conference game. East Carolina is a pass-first team led by junior QB Shane Carden and after throwing for over 3,100 yards last season, Carden tossed for 447 yards and five touchdowns in the opener. He completed over 85 percent of his passes, which is even more impressive considering there were 54 attempts last week.

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East Carolina was really never able to pull away from Old Dominion until the fourth quarter, going up 49-31 after consecutive scores. The defense surrendered 460 yards mostly through the air and this was a team that allowed almost 32 points per game last season. Even with nine starters back on defense, the Pirates will still give up a lot of points given the fast pace of the offense and the number of plays both teams will run in most East Carolina games. Both teams had 26 first downs in the game and this will be an important game for an East Carolina team that failed to win the C-USA East last season despite going 7-1 in conference play as they lost the tiebreaker with UCF, a team that has since departed for the new AAC.

Florida Atlantic earned a narrow cover last Friday night in a 34-6 loss at Miami. The Owls were out-gained by an over 2:1 margin, allowing over 500 yards with Miami rushing for 303 yards on 8.0 yards per carry. Florida Atlantic does have an experienced defense and the Owls hung within two scores until late in the third quarter last week. FAU has an experienced secondary and actually held opponents to just 55 percent passing last season, so the style of play from the Pirates may be easier for the Owls to handle compared with the rushing attack that was displayed by the Hurricanes.

Florida Atlantic could again struggle on offense however, even going against a far less talented defense. In his first start, sophomore QB Jaquez Johnson was mostly ineffective, but the Owls did have some success moving the ball, completing 18 first downs in the game despite totaling only six points.

While the rushing numbers for the Owls were not impressive, Florida Atlantic stuck with the ground game for 43 attempts, eventually netting 133 total yards and that conservative approach is probably wise as the Pirates would have a big edge in a shootout. The Owls only committed three penalties and had just one turnover, despite the inexperience at QB and on the offensive line so there were some promising signs in a game that Florida Atlantic knew they had little chance in.

Florida Atlantic won just three games last season and after a run of success in 2007 and 2008 under Howard Schnellenberger, this program has been in a rebuilding mode as head coach Carl Pelini starts his second season. Moving to Conference USA will not make things easier and the first game in league play will come against one of the top teams in the division. This is the second of three straight road games to open the season for the Owls and this is a program that has lost 14 of the last 28 games by 20 or more points.

Line Movement: The line opened at -20.5 before dipping down to -20. The total has opened at 54.

Florida Atlantic Historical Trends: Florida Atlantic is 14-23-1 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2004, but they have covered in six consecutive games in that role. The Owls are 24-32-1 ATS on the road since 2005, but there has likewise been a recent uptick with seven consecutive covers for the Owls in road games, including last week's narrow cover. Florida Atlantic was 6-1 ATS last season as a road underdog covering in all five instances when getting at least 14 points. FAU has just one S/U road win in the last two seasons however.

East Carolina Historical Trends: East Carolina has been a solid home performer, going 33-20 ATS at home since 2004, including going 16-11 ATS as a home favorite since 2006. The Pirates are 13-7 as a double-digit favorite since 2001, but they have just one ATS win as a favorite of 20 or more going back to the early '80s, though it is not a common role for the team. The Pirates were 5-1 S/U and 4-2 ATS at home last season and Coach McNeill is 12-6 S/U at home in his three plus seasons in Greenville. East Carolina has not been this steep of a favorite since 2002.

  
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