That doesn’t mean FAU can’t approach Saturday’s game at Middle Tennessee, the Conference USA opener for both teams, with a playoff mentality.
“It’s the playoffs,” FAU running back Devin Singletary said. “It’s do or die. That’s what it comes down to.”
Singletary has a point. At this time last year, FAU owned a listless 1-3 record as it prepared for MTSU.
The Owls defeated the Blue Raiders in Week 5 and didn’t lose against, racing to their first Conference USA championship.
The quest to repeat the feat begins on Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
“That’s our goal,” senior left tackle Reggie Bain said. “That’s our No. 1 goal for the season. We obviously want to start out 1-0.”
To start 1-0, FAU will need to do something it hasn’t done since 2004: win at MTSU. Last year’s victory snapped a nine-game FAU losing streak to Middle Tennessee, which was without starting quarterback Brent Stockstill.
One of the next steps the FAU football program needs to take if it wants to be considered one of the Top 25 nationally is to prove it can play – and win – consistently on the road.
“You need to run the ball,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said. “You need to play good defense. That’s usually what good road teams do.”
After a slow start, the Owls’ running game found traction over the past couple weeks, rushing for more than 300 yards against Bethune-Cookman and then-No. 16 UCF in consecutive games.
The defense? That’s still a work in progress.
Only two teams nationally allow more than the 43.5 points per game FAU surrendered in its four non-conference clashes.
As a whole, FAU has yet to recapture the swagger it displayed while bludgeoning C-USA opponents last season.
“I think we’re trying to,” defensive end Hunter Snyder said. “I don’t think everything’s all there yet, our chemistry and stuff. Once we get in conference play we’re going to have to bring that swagger, that juice back like we had it so we can go on the run.”
Unlike last year, FAU won’t be able to sneak up on the first few C-USA opponents this season.
A 2018 run to the conference championship will have to be executed while the Owls have a target on their backs. Starting on Saturday, C-USA teams will be ready for FAU. They’ll be emotionally charged.
“People usually spend the offseason, just like we do, studying top teams in your conference,” Kiffin said. “You usually study the team that beat you and what did they do? I’m sure people did that. It makes it harder to sneak up on people.”
Conference play is different than a true playoff because one loss doesn’t necessarily disqualify team. North Texas fell to FAU during the regular season last year and still reached the C-USA title game – where the Owls once again blew out the Mean Green.
An FAU loss at MTSU wouldn’t eliminate the Owls from the C-USA title chase, but it would mean that the Blue Raiders would have to lose twice over the final two months of the season for the Owls to have a chance to return to the championship game. A second loss by FAU the remainder of the way would almost certainly squash their chances at repeating.
With that in mind, FAU players this week weren’t too concerned about their 2-2 record heading into C-USA play. They’re thinking about an eight-game long playoff.
“Not saying that the four games before this didn’t matter, but these ones matter a lot more than those other ones,” quarterback Chris Robison said. “There’s a completely different feel because our goal is to win the conference and we start with this game this week.”