The Owls must also triumph a quartet of obstacles outside of their control: a short week, cold weather, a game on the road and a Mean Green team bent on revenge.
FAU players are well aware of the revenge factor. The Owls trounced North Texas twice last season by a combined score of 110-48. The second victory came in the Conference USA championship game.
“I expect it to be harder than what it was because we beat them twice, they don’t want to get beat a third time, in their house,” FAU wide receiver Willie Wright said. “That’s just like if somebody comes in my house and slaps my momma twice, and then want to come slap her again. That’s not going to happen. I expect them to come real hard.”
Winning in someone else’s house hadn’t exactly been a strength for the Owls this season. FAU lost their first four road games this year before making the short trip south to Miami and pounding FIU two weeks ago.
FAU owns an 8-4 series record over North Texas but hasn’t won in Denton, Texas since 2009.
The short week complicated preparations for Thursday night’s contest.
FAU only held one full practice this week, cramming everything into Monday’s practice. The Owls approached Tuesday’s practice as through it were a Thursday, using the practice as their walk through, with Wednesday being their short “fast practice” before heading to the airport.
“There’s a lot of things that are a little bit different, but I think our guys are handling it well and we’re preparing the best we can, for sure,” quarterback Chris Robison said.
One aspect coach Lane Kiffin can’t prepare for is the weather. Forecasts have the thermometer dropping into the low 40s for the 9:30 kickoff on Thursday.
Considering most of FAU’s roster hails from South Florida, that’s uncharted limb-numbing territory.
“You’ve really got to concentrate on catching the ball because your hands will probably be cold,” wide receiver Jovon Durante said. “The ball will be hard. You’ve just got to really look it in.”
Though he played at Miramar, Durante is one of the few Owls will experience playing when temperature approaches freezing.
During his freshman season at West Virginia he played games in the cold and the snow.
“Playing in cold games or games when it’s raining, I just go out there and make it seem like nobody’s out there, slowing the game down, not thinking about the cold or the rain.”
FAU historically hasn’t experienced success in cold weather games. The Owls are 2-6 all time in games that kicked off when the temperature was 50 degrees or lower.
One of those wins, however, came last season when the Owls started slowly before posting 22 unanswered fourth quarter points to beat Western Kentucky 42-28 in a game where the temperature at kickoff measured 44 degrees.
“Last year we played Western Kentucky in the cold and dominated,” said wide receiver Pico Harrison, who plans to combat the chill by wearing long sleeves under his uniform. “We’ll be fine, I think.”
There is one Owl, however, who is looking forward to playing in a Texas-sized November chill. Robison played his high school football about an hour away from Denton and is looking forward to breathing some hometown air.
“It’s going to be a little cold, but I think it’s going to feel great because we’re going to be warmed up and everything so the cold’s really not going to get to us,” Robison said. “So I think it’s going to be good.”