BOCA RATON – FAU football hasn’t enjoyed many years like 2017. Players said they approached every week intent on going 1-0 that week – the implication being that week’s game was the most important game on the schedule. While that may sound like coach speak, look back through FAU’s schedule and a case can be made that they were correct most weeks.
The opener against Navy? Important to start the season right. FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman? The Owls needed their first win. MTSU? FAU looking for revenge in the C-USA opener after last year’s blowout. Western Kentucky? The Hilltoppers were defending conference champs. And that only gets fans halfway through the schedule.
So which games were the most important FAU football games of 2017? Here are the Top 3.
FAU Most Important Games 2017
1. Title Time – The goal at the end of every regular season game is to play in the conference championship game. For the first time in their history, the Owls made good on that goal. To claim the Conference USA title FAU needed to defeat a North Texas squad that the Owls bludgeoned 69-31 earlier in the season (a game that makes a strong case for inclusion in this list).
FAU didn’t start as quickly offensively in the rematch as it did during the first meeting, but the defense played the best half in program history, flying to the ball and punishing anyone wearing a green jersey. Devin Singletary’s five-yard TD run in the closing minutes of the half sent FAU into the locker room leading 27-0, essentially ensuring that FAU would end the afternoon by hoisting its first Conference USA trophy.
2. Champs Go Down – The week after putting Conference USA on notice with their regular-season blowout of North Texas, the Owls showed they had the mettle to win the Conference USA title. FAU traveled to Western Kentucky on Oct. 28 riding a three-game winning streak and hoping to take down the defending Conference USA champion. At 5-2 overall and 3-1 in Conference USA play, the Hilltoppers couldn’t afford to lose another game and still hope to defend their title.
2WKU led 21-20 at the half and 28-20 going into the fourth quarter before FAU erupted. Devin Singletary’s 60-yard TD run, which we selected as FAU’s Offensive Play of the Year, and the ensuing two-point conversion tied the game. A 49-yard Jason Driskel-to-Willie Wright hookup gave the Owls the lead. Singletary found the end zone for the fourth time on the afternoon shortly after a Ryan Rickel 22-yard run on a fake field goal to cement FAU’s fourth consecutive win. The Owls showed grit and the ability to win a close game – traits that eluded them in years past. FAU knocked off the champ.
3. Best Loss – So many candidates for this spot. The aforementioned regular-season North Texas game, when FAU played about as well as a team could play. The week after defeating WKU, FAU took down conference powerhouse Marshall in a game that remained tight into the fourth quarter. FAU also returned the Shula Bowl trophy to Boca Raton. Oh, yeah. The Owls also won their first bowl game since 2008.
But this spot goes to September’s 34-31 loss at Buffalo. The Owls were coming off a 45-0 dismantling of Bethune-Cookman, yet still elected to switch from Daniel Parr to Driskel at quarterback. Even without linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who didn’t play because of injury, FAU still believed it would pound Buffalo. When the Owls knocked Bulls starting quarterback Tyree Jackson out of the game, victory seemed certain. Yet the Owls played one of their worst defensive games, struggling to tackle. Three touchdowns from Singletary weren’t enough to give the Owls their second win of the season.
Considering that the Owls went 11-3, winning the C-USA title and the Boca Raton Bowl, a random non-conference loss might not seem overly important. But to the Owls it was. Every week either a player or coach Lane Kiffin referred to that loss as a motivating factor toward the coming week’s opponent. They constantly bemoaned the one that got away, stating that they never wanted to feel the way they felt in that Buffalo visitor’s locker room again. For the remainder of the year, they didn’t. FAU won the remaining 10 games on the schedule.