BOCA RATON – In a mixed up week where FAU held its normal Monday practice on Thursday and and Thursday practice on Monday, why wouldn’t FAU prepare for Tuesday’s Boca Raton Bowl match-up against Akron as though it were Monday Night Football?
Similar to a normal Monday night game during the NFL season, the Owls and and Zips will be the only football game on television Tuesday night.
A nation that craves pigskin will have its eyes trained on Florida Atlantic University for three hours on Tuesday.
“I told them it is Monday Night Football,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said. “You’re the only game on. That’s what all the players in the NFL want to be on because they know everyone’s watching.”
FAU enters the Boca Bowl winners of nine consecutive games, having raced undefeated through the Conference USA slate.
During that run the Owls harbored revenge as a motivating factor, looking to to get even with, and earn the respect of, teams that padded their record with wins over FAU during the Owls previous three 3-9 seasons.
On Tuesday, the Owls intend to earn the respect of a much larger audience.
“Let’s show the world,” running back Buddy Howell said. “We’ve still got to earn respect from the world. All these accolades and stuff that’s going on, you’re not really getting the national recognition that you would expect for someone like (running back Devin Singletary) with all the stats and stuff. Got an opportunity to go out there and show them what we are really about so they can know our game. They can only say, Hey man this team’s got something. This team knows something. They’re going out there and dominating. And that just helps the university out as a whole. Everybody gets to watch it. Everybody gets to see FAU at one point in time.”
Singletary is major reason FAU secured Tuesday’s spotlight opportunity. The back nicknamed “Motor” leads the nation with 29 rushing touchdowns. Only four backs in history have ever rushed for more in a single season. His 1,796 yards ranks fourth nationally.
With Akron’s run defense ranked No. 99 nationally, allowing 197.2 yards per game, Singletary, who already owns four 200-yard rushing games in his brief career, has a chance at clearing the 2,000-yard mark.
“You always want to put on a show, try to have your best performance for something like this,” Singletary said. “That’s definitely motivation, to try to show the world what we can do for the people that haven’t seen us.”
Singletary isn’t the only reason FAU received a national stage. Jason Driskel’s numbers aren’t gaudy, but the Owls won nine of his 10 starts. He’s also one of the few quarterbacks in history to have a game with four rushing touchdowns and another with four passing touchdowns in the same season.
Defensively, safety Jalen Young is tied for the lead nationally with seven interceptions. As a team the Owls lead the nation with 20 picks. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair led Conference USA with 134 tackles despite missing a game because of injury.
While those players are making their mark nationally, they’re still not household names locally. Playing a bowl game at Howard Schnellenberger Field offers another opportunity for familiarity, showcasing their skills to people who are college football fans but not necessarily FAU fans.
They are potentially the next passengers to jump about the Lane Train.
“You go around here, I’m going to guess eight or nine of the 10 people you walk by might not know we have a football team,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully we’ve changed that to eight. It used to be nine a year ago.”
With an impressive win over Akron (7-6, 6-3), the MAC runner-up, on Tuesday the Owls might bring that number down to seven.
Gambling services predict FAU will defeat Akron by at least 20 points – the largest point spread among bowl games this season.
“It means something for people that aren’t playing, but when we walk out there it’s going to be 0-0 on the scoreboard, so that’s really all that matters,” Driskel said. “We’re going to have to execute. We’re going to have to play well to win.”
And the Owls are going to have to play well to earn the respect of the nation on a night when the college football world can take notice.
“All the stuff that they talk about, about disrespect, and they want to be a Top 25 team, and second-longest winning streak in the country but people don’t really respect them – that’s what they think,” Kiffin said. “So I said if that’s what you really think, go show them.”