Under new coaching, FAU is well on their way to their first winning season since 2008.
As we head down the stretch of the regular season, the media focuses on the College Football Playoff race. This consists of the top tier teams from the Power Five conferences, as they battle to be among the top four in the College Football Playoff Rankings.
We at SQ have started the “Underdog U” series which covers a non-Power Five team that deserves your attention. This week, we’ll look at Florida Atlantic and how the Owls have changed their fortunes around under first-year coach Lane Kiffin.
Why You Don’t Know Them
If you haven’t heard much about Florida Atlantic University, it’s OK; they’ve only had a football program since 2001 and didn’t enter the Division I-A (now FBS) until 2005. Legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger was the Owls’ first head coach and went 26-23 in the programs first four seasons, including an 11-3 record in 2003 where FAU got all the way to the I-AA semifinals.
However, since joining the ranks of the best schools, the Owls have a record of 50-95. Their best seasons came in 2007 and 2008 where FAU went 15-11, won the Sun Belt title in ‘07, and won both their bowl games. Since then, they haven’t been able to crack the six-win mark.
FAU Owl’s Nest (@FAU_Owls_Nest) October 5, 2017
FAU’s conference isn’t doing them any favors in terms of getting noticed. When they first entered the FBS, the Owls were in the Sun Belt Conference before moving to C-USA in 2013. While C-USA is on the rise after sending a conference-record seven teams to bowl games last year, the conference as a whole isn’t seen as particularly strong. In fact, the last time a conference member finished a season in the AP top-25 was Marshall in 2014 when they finished 23rd.
Until C-USA becomes stronger or FAU moves, the Owls will have trouble getting noticed by national media. But getting a high-profile head coach and scheduling a few power-conference teams is a good start.
Why You Should Know Them
The Owls have been overlooked after going 3-9 for three straight seasons. On December 12th they made headlines after naming former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin as the new head coach. Kiffin is a polarizing figure in football. He got his start in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders in 2007 but was fired after going 5-15. He made a one-year stop at the University of Tennessee before heading out to USC. He had a 28-15 record with the Trojans before famously getting fired before getting on the team plane. After three seasons with the Tide, Kiffin yet again finds himself at the helm in Boca Roton.
With Kiffin and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, formerly from Baylor, the Owls’ offense has seen a drastic improvement. In 2016 FAU ranked 86th in total offense picking up only 4,779 yards. This season they’ve already surpassed that total with 5,199 yards, which ranks 17th nationally and eighth in points per game with 40.5, a 14-point improvement from last season.
Despite a subpar passing attack (only 2,116 passing yards), the FAU running game is one of the best in the country and is led by sophomore running back Devin Singletary. As a freshman, last season Singletary split carries with Gregory Howell Jr. and still rushed 1,000 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns on 152 carries. Now as the feature back, at 230 carries, Singletary is one of the best runners in the country. He has the fourth-most rushing yards (1,524) and the most rushing touchdowns (24) in the nation.
USA (@ConferenceUSA) November 23, 2017
The FAU defense leaves a lot to be desired and could hold this team back in a bowl game against a more well-rounded team. But this rushing attack is something special and deserves to be noticed.
The Kiffin era didn’t start off great, as the Owls lost three of their first four games to Navy, Wisconsin, and Buffalo. During that stretch, FAU outscored their opponents 109-107, but that was thanks to a 45-0 win against Bethune-Cookman. However, since entering conference play, the Owls have won seven straight and outscored their opponents by an average of almost 23 points. For the first time since 2007, they will be playing for a conference title.
The Road Ahead
With the season almost over and the C-USA East division all wrapped up the road ahead for FAU is a short one. Their last regular season game will come against 1-10 Charlotte who has one of the worst offenses (123rd nationally), defenses (106th), and should pose no threat to the Owls.
Like many conference title games, the battle between FAU and North Texas is a rematch from earlier in the year. If their last game is any indication of how this championship game will go, they might as well give FAU the crown now. The Owls completely dominated the game on both sides of the ball in a 69-31 beatdown. The offense scored on their first 11 drives picking up 804 total yards. Singletary led the way by rushing for 123 yards and three scores. The Mean Green scored 31 points, but had only scored 17 at the end of three quarters and had three turnovers in the game.
If the Owls win the conference and finish 10-3 then they’ll have their pick from any C-USA sponsored bowl. The popular picks are either the Boca Raton Bowl (where they’d play in front of a home crowd), the Bahamas Bowl, or the Independence Bowl. Analysts are also pegging FAU to play USF which would be another good test for Kiffin’s team. Wherever they go and whoever they play, FAU should provide some intrigue and open up questions on whether or not Kiffin will come back.
Edited by Brian Kang.
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