One year after falling to Navy’s triple option attack in his FAU debut, Kiffin and the Owls are preparing to welcome Air Force and its triple option offense to Boca Raton for Saturday’s home opener.
“It’s very unusual scheduling, two years in a row,” Kiffin said. “Don’t understand it at all. It doesn’t make your team better. It makes you take a whole week to prepare for something you’ll never see again the rest of the year. And we don’t get paid for it, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Kiffin uttered similar statements over the past week, including issuing a mock thank you to former athletic director Pat Chun during his weekly radio show on ESPN West Palm for scheduling the academies.
FAU’s 2019 non-conference schedule, which the Owls officially announced includes Wagner of the FCS level, doesn’t feature a team that currently employs the triple option, but FAU is under contract to play Georgia Southern. in 2020 and 2021, and also travels to Air Force in 2021. Traditionally known for its triple option offense, Georgia Southern tried the spread offense the past few years before bringing back the triple option this season.
At the heart of Kiffin’s complaint is that teams which run the triple option force the Owls to prepare for an offense they rarely play and the Owls are hard pressed to use that preparation as a building block for the remainder of the year.
The triple option employs cut blocking as a means to clear a path for its ground attack. Defensive coaches and players don’t like playing against cut-blocking teams because of the technique’s affinity for taking out defenders legs, increasing the chances of knee, ankle and leg injuries.
The games with Navy, Air Force and Georgia Southern were all scheduled before first year athletic director Brian White arrived at FAU. Air Force and Georgia Southern were scheduled under Chun’s watch. Craig Angelos, Chun’s predecessor, scheduled the Navy home-and-home series.
Kiffin is not alone in his disdain for facing a triple option team. Carl Pelini decried having to face Navy in 2012 – his first year as Owls coach. Navy spoiled Kiffin’s debut by trouncing the Owls 42-19.
White estimates he’s had as many as 30 conversations regarding future schedules with Kiffin, who recently signed a contract extension designed to keep him the Owls’ coach through 2027.
“He and I are completely on the same page,” White said of Kiffin.
The Owls will likely try to avoid service academy games for the foreseeable future. They will also attempt to keep from playing national powerhouses, against whom they would be considerable underdogs.
“You want to schedule teams that you can be competitive with,” White said. “We’re in a financial situation, like every other school at our level, where we probably have to take a guarantee game once a year. You’d love to take one where, I’d rather not schedule a Top 5 or Top 10 [team] down the road. You’d rather schedule that team where, maybe there’s Top 35 – a team you can be a little bit more competitive with.”
FAU plays at Ohio St., where Chun worked before coming to Florida Atlantic, next season, then the Owls travel to Minnesota in 2020 and Illinois in 2023. The Owls also travel to Clemson in 2023. Of those opponents, only the Minnesota game is new to FAU’s future schedule since Kiffin came to Boca Raton.
“I like our home-and-home with UCF,” White said. “I like the fact that we have USF coming. I think those are smart. We’d probably be open to a two-for-one with the right teams if there was something that made sense, but down the road .”
FAU’s best known two-for-one agreement brought Miami to Howard Schnellenberger Field in 2015. The Owls fell to the Hurricanes 44-20 that year, and lost at Dolphins stadium in 2013 and 2016.
Florida Atlantic travels to Central Florida on Sept. 21, with the Knights coming south next season. South Florida makes it’s first trip to Howard Schnellenberger Field in 2020, with the Owls heading to Tampa in 2022. The Owls defeated the Bulls in Tampa under Pelini in 2013.
“You want to have better teams to bring into FAU stadium where the season ticket adds value, the single game ticket adds value,” White said. “You’re always looking at that as well.”
White intends to continue to bring one FCS team to Boca Raton each season. FAU defeated Wagner 7-3 in Pelini’s first game. In recent years FAU has added victories over FCS foes Southern Illinois and Bethune-Cookman. The Owls face the Wildcats next week in Boca Raton.
“It makes sense for us,” White said. “To be bowl eligible you can count one FCS team.”