BOCA RATON – Discussing FAU’s bid to the Boca Raton Bowl, Owls’ athletic director Pat Chun said all the right things, doing so with the enthusiasm of a man who expected new television as a Christmas gift only to receive socks.
FAU is going bowling, but the Owls aren’t going far. To be precise, they aren’t going anywhere. Florida Atlantic (10-3, 9-0), the Conference USA champion, will play Akron (7-6, 6-2), the Mid American Conference’s runner-up on Dec. 19 in the same stadium where FAU has already played seven games this season.
“We’re ecstatic to be going to the Boca Raton Bowl,” Chun said.
It’s not that the Boca Raton Bowl is a bad bowl. Far from it. Many regard it as a premier destination. It’s televised by ESPN, and is the only football game on TV that night. Western Kentucky successfully lobbied for a Boca Bowl invitation last season after winning the C-USA title.
Only in its fourth year of existence, the Boca Bowl delivers a well-run bowl experience that Chun correctly noted is “one of the best young bowl games in the entire country.”
But part of the fun, the reward, of a bowl game is going to new cities and hopefully playing big-name opponents.
As nice as Howard Schnellenberger Field is, that’s still FAU’s home stadium. It’s kind of like taking a date to watch TV at your mother’s house. The program may be nice, but…
“We’re kind of told what to do and where to go,” Chun said. “We are going to embrace this and see all the positives in it.”
Despite being the C-USA champion, FAU did not get to choose its destination. Florida Atlantic officials could only discuss the possibilities and mildly influence the decision with Conference USA officials.
“We did everything that was allowed by the league, so all those conversations we did have with our conference office,” Chun said,
That response prompted the question, Are you happy with your conference office?
“We’re honored to be playing in the Boca Raton Bowl,” Chun answered.
This will be the first bowl game played by FAU with Chun as the athletic director.
In years past, Chun held the philosophy that, given the opportunity, FAU would rather not play in the Boca Bowl, figuring that playing in a different game, then having the Boca Bowl broadcast from campus that could essentially serve as an infomercial for Florida Atlantic University doubled the school’s exposure.
Playing in the Boca Bowl does have its upside for the FAU football program.
“Having watched this bowl grow the last couple years, it’s arguably the biggest single-day sporting event in Palm Beach County,” Chun said “And then to come to this game, really the three-four years it’s been here and to see all the fans in and around our community that come here that aren’t Florida Atlantic University season ticket holders or ticket purchasers or Owls, this is really a big opportunity for us to showcase our football program to people that, for whatever reason, come to the Boca Bowl and support the Boca Bowl but don’t typically come to FAU games.”
FAU playing Akron may not have the national appeal that the Owls would have hoped for, but there are some interesting story lines, highlighted by the head coaches.
Lane Kiffin, son of NFL defensive guru Monte Kiffin, hasn’t even completed his first season at FAU is already the second-winningest coach in program history.
Terry Bowden, son of NCAA coaching legend Bobby Bowden, guided Auburn to an undefeated season in 1993 and is currently in his sixth season with the Zips.
“I think when you look at the story we have here with FAU and Akron, coach Kiffin has put together a phenomenal season and on the other side of that you’ve got a coach that’s got a brand name in Florida that’s the gold standard in Bowden’s,” Boca Raton Bowl Executive Director Doug Mosley said.
Lane Kiffin admitted he doesn’t know much about Akron, yet. But he is already offering marketing ideas.
“Hopefully we’ll have a bowl dinner and we can get the dads there, we can have coach [Bobby] Bowden and coach [Monte] Kiffin there,” Lane said. “It would be pretty neat.”
But for FAU, it would have been even neater had that dinner taken place in St. Petersburg, or Shreveport, La., or basically, anywhere other than the Owls’ collective home dinner table.
“As great of a year that we had this year, the ceiling is even higher for next year,” Chun said. “This is going to be an opportunity for FAU to show the country what it can do for a bowl game in terms of ticket sales, exposure, things of that nature.”
At least Chun will undertake that effort wearing clean socks.