49ers prepare for season opener at Florida Atlantic 

Charlotte lost to the Owls by 29 points last fall

Record-setting quarterback Chris Reynolds returns for a fifth season in Charlotte. The 49ers open their season Saturday at Florida Atlantic. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP Photo)

CHARLOTTE — As the Charlotte 49ers and Florida Atlantic Owls gear up for their football season opener in Boca Raton, Florida, on Saturday at 7 p.m, both teams are entering the 2022 season under similar circumstances as they look to rise out of the middle of the pack in the Conference USA before moving to the American Athletic Conference next year.

The Niners and Owls each finished last year with 5-7 overall records (3-5 in conference play) and both lost their final four games of the year to miss out on bowl appearances.


FAU came to Charlotte last October and drummed the 49ers with a definitive 38-9 decision, but this weekend’s matchup has a chance to be a much tighter battle — Las Vegas currently has the Owls as a seven-point favorite.

Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds and FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry will go head-to-head once again as each enters the fall with most of their offensive weapons returning.

Niners coach Will Healy returns an offense with the ability to put up big numbers. Victor Tucker, Grant DuBose and Elijah Spencer make up an impressive wide receiver unit that could be the best in Conference USA. Running backs Calvin Camp and former Iowa transfer Shadrick Byrd are each capable of putting the 49ers’ rushing attack on their shoulders.

Owls coach Willie Taggart has a new offensive coordinator this year in Brent Dearmon, who was previously at Kansas in that same position. Dearmon will look to take the Owls to the next level as Perry operates the offense with returning top wideouts LaJohntay Wester and Je’Quan Burton. Running back Johnny Ford is also back after averaging more than six yards per carry and a team-high 831 rushing yards.

The two offenses each have a shot at operating at a higher level than they did last year, and the same goes for the defenses.

Charlotte has a new defensive coordinator and defensive line coach in Greg Brown and Brian Baker, respectively, and they will be tasked with fixing a unit that was one of the worst defenses in C-USA last season, allowing 465 yards and 34 points per game.

FAU’s defense, led by new coordinator Todd Orlando, has five returning starters from 2021 and some key additions. Transfers Jamie Pettway (Missouri) and Morven Joseph (Tennessee) join returning players Eddie Williams and Chris Jones at linebacker.

Saturday’s Niners-Owls game will be an interesting indicator of what is ahead for both programs this season. Charlotte’s explosive passing attack matches up well against FAU’s limited secondary depth, but the Owls’ offense could also exploit a Niners defense that has a lot to prove.

While UAB, UTSA and Western Kentucky are expected to reside at the top of the Conference USA standings like they did in 2021. Saturday could reveal which of Charlotte and FAU has a chance to be a dark horse.