PHOTO GALLERY: Student section and FAU pregame
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BOCA RATON – Each week we look back at the previous day’s game, searching for the positives and negatives. In the case of FAU’s 52-24 blowout of FIU in the Shula Bowl, positives abound. The Owls claimed their first Conference USA East Division crown and the berth in the C-USA title game that comes with it. They also avenged last year’s two-point loss to FIU. The Lane Train keeps rolling. The Shula Bowl trophy is back in Boca Raton.
Chuck King: FAU is receiving votes in the coaches Top 25 poll. It’s not that the Owls don’t deserve them. They do. But no one realistically expected FAU to accomplish what the Owls have this season. Going into the year most every FAU fan would have gladly accepted a six-win season and the accompanying bowl berth. FAU has now won seven consecutive games, blasting through its Conference USA season. So far its been an amazing turnaround, and with Saturday’s victory the Owls are guaranteed three more games. Lane Kiffin said earlier in the week that this run is “not normal.” No it’s not. But it’s welcome.
Matt Wilson: Jason Driskel had himself a good day passing. He is known more as a game manager but he showed he can be a passing threat with four touchdowns. He also threw for 239 yards on 18 completions. His four touchdown passes are the most of the season and the second most passing yards he threw since his 357-yard performance against UNT.
King: Kudos to quarterback Jason Driskel. The Phoenix started the season on the bench, then became the ultimate game manager, and now is showing that he can be as dangerous as anyone on the field. Driskel set a personal record with four touchdown passes on Saturday. He made smart decisions and continues to be a threat running the ball. Yes, wide receiver Kalib Woods had his best day as an Owl, but he couldn’t have done it without Driskel.
Wilson: Wide receiver Kalib Woods had 172 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He caught a 79-yard touchdown pass to increase FAU’s lead to 34-17 on the first drive for FAU in the second half. He also dominated FIU corner Brad Muhammad, as he also had a 32 yard catch over him to help lead FAU to the game clinching and C-USA East championship drive. Woods led the team in passes caught with seven.
King: Traditions in rivalry games have a tendency to take on lives of their own, but I’m not too fond of what appears to be the newest Shula Bowl tradition – ripping the losing opponent’s helmet off the Shula Bowl trophy. Best we can tell, it first happened three Shula Bowls ago – an FAU win – and it isn’t entirely clear that the FIU helmet didn’t come off that day as an unintentional consequence of the scrum to get the trophy. Last year FIU intentionally ripped FAU’s helmet off the trophy, likely in response to seeing FAU players celebrating with the Panthers’ helmet the year prior. FAU didn’t have the Shula Bowl back in its possession for more than 10 seconds on Saturday before removing the FIU helmet. Watching players race to hoist a trophy they so clearly revere is one of the best parts of any Shula Bowl. It seems odd to deface a trophy coveted so immensely. It’s also not the most sportsmanlike action to take – for what that’s worth.
Wilson: The two-point conversion following Devin Singletary’s touchdown run with 6:13 remaining was unnecessary. Kiffin could have just kicked the extra point and still won the game as is. Instead he had to shove it down FIU’s throats and show that FAU will destroy them. Not a bad thing for FAU fans but it won’t be looked upon well by other foes.
King: FAU plays Charlotte next week, North Texas in the Conference USA championship game, and then what? Should FAU win the C-USA title game, the Owls will get their first choice of C-USA bowl tie-ins from among the bowls that offer them an invite (not every bowl has to offer every C-USA eligible team). The chances of FAU playing in the Boca Raton Bowl are infinitesimal. As a school, Florida Atlantic would rather have the double exposure that comes with FAU playing in one bowl, then the school itself featured as the host of the Boca Bowl. New Orleans also doesn’t seem like a desired destination. The symmetry of returning to the New Orleans Bowl 10 years after making their first bowl appearance in that game would be a good story, but the Owls don’t have much to gain from playing a Sun Belt opponent. Plus, the New Orleans Bowl is the first bowl of the season, which means it usually passes unnoticed by most of the college football world. Expect the Owls to try to play the highest profile opponent they can – that means a bowl against a Power 5 opponent – the Independence Bowl may have a slot – or maybe a game against another team from Florida. Or both.
Wilson: For the first time ever, FAU is C-USA East champs and have another “home” game this year – a rematch against North Texas. This is looking to be the most complete FAU season ever. Singletary continues to post record numbers. He now has 24 touchdowns rushing scores on the year and Driskel now has 10 passing touchdowns. FAU has a trap game next week when they play a not-so-good Charlotte team. If FAU can win out, the Owls can also do something they never have done – pull into the Top 25.