Coach Lane Kiffin labeled starting senior cornerback Raekwon Williams “questionable” to play against North Texas in what will be a battle of two teams atop their divisions in C-USA.
“We’ll see what happens,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully he’ll play.”
Kiffin did not elaborate on the condition that’s put Williams’ status in question.
This season Williams is credited with 25 tackles, fifth most among the Owls, and an interception.
Averaging a conference-best 37.2 points per game, North Texas does much of its damage through the air. Quarterback Mason Fine leads a Mean Green offense that’s averaging 305.0 passing yards per game. FAU’s defense is fifth nationally with 10 interceptions. Nine of those picks have come from defensive backs, including a team-high three from sophomore Chris Tooley.
On Wednesday Tooley played in Williams’ starting spot alongside Shelton Lewis – at least for the beginning of practice.
FAU regularly rotates four cornerbacks during a game, with redshirt freshman Korel Smith joining Williams, Lewis and Tooley. Smith’s statistics don’t indicate much of an impact this year but in recent weeks Kiffin praised the play of all four.
The Owls only have five cornerbacks on scholarship. True freshman Diashun Moss saw the first game action of his career in FAU’s most recent game – a blowout of Old Dominion two weeks ago. He moved up to the second team earlier this week.
“(North Texas) is obviously the best conference team we’ve played so far – arguably the best team in the conference by the way they’re playing now on both sides of the ball,” Kiffin said. “We’ll have our hands full with that.”
Keys to the Game: FAU (3-3, 2-0) vs. North Texas (4-2, 3-0)
North Texas (4-2, 3-0 C-USA)
vs. FAU (3-3, 2-0 C-USA)
- When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
- Where: Howard Schnellenberger Field
- Listen: ESPN West Palm (106.3 FM)
- Watch: ESPN3
Key for FAU: Tackle the ball carrier. During the bye week Kiffin stressed the Owls’ need to become a better tackling team. When teams gashed the Owls for big plays this season, there’s usually a missed tackle or two along the way – particularly in the secondary. “We want to come out and show our dominance, and I feel like this is a game that we can actually, really prove ourselves and really set the tone for the rest of the season,” safety Jalen Young said.
Key for UNT: Make FAU QB Jason Driskel win the game with his arm. FAU’s struggles in the passing game are well documented. Driskel has failed to connect downfield all season. Last week he made up for it by rushing for four touchdowns – half of the Owls’ eight rushing touchdowns on the day. The week before running back Devin Singletary rushed for four scores. The Mean Green need to make Driskel prove he has what it takes to win the game through the air because if the Owls get their running game going early, North Texas will be in trouble.
Big Game Fever: FAU players seem excited that North Texas rallied to beat Texas-San Antonio last week, allowing the Mean Green to bring an undefeated conference record to Boca Raton. “It just makes the game that much more important,” tackle Reggie Bain said. “It’s already an important game for us to stay at the top of the East. Now we’re playing the top of the West. It’s the best of the best in the conference.” Added wide receiver Pico Harrison, “It’s exciting. I love great competition and I love to send people home. That’s what we plan on doing this week.”
More Records?: Devin Singletary only needs two more rushing scores this season to tie FAU’s single-season rushing touchdown record. That record, 13, isn’t even a year old. Singletary’s backfield mate, Buddy Howell, set the mark last season. Six of Singletary’s 11 touchdowns came in the past two games.
Special Player: Defensive end Tim Bonner hasn’t made the impact along the defensive line that many expected, but he is having quite a season on special teams. Nearly all of the tackles made by the player teammates refer to as “Slim Bugaloo” came on special teams. Kiffin considers the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Bonner one of the best special teams players in the nation. “I did it all my life in high school,” Bonner said of his special teams play. “That’s how I got recruited.”
Dance the Dance: Pass rush specialist Ernest Bagner, a defensive end, only has 1.5 sacks this year. He’s hoping that facing more spread offenses down the stretch will afford more opportunities. This week, however, he might have to settle for getting close. “This quarterback is smaller than most – definitely get my hands up to get some passes blocked,” Bagner said. “Hopefully that can create some interceptions and touchdowns, so I can use my celebrations that I’ve got stocked up. I haven’t been able to use them yet, but they’re coming. Just know they’re ready.”
Remember the Champions: FAU will honor the 2007 team that won the Owls’ only conference championship and the first of their to bowl titles. Approximately 40 players and coaches from that team are expected on the field between the first and second quarters to see the unveiling of a banner inside the stadium recognizing their accomplishment.
And there doesn’t seem to be a support group for the cause of his problem – a mistress so potent that she’s spreading herself throughout the Owls’ locker room.
“It’s like, getting addicted to winning,” Howell said. “That’s the feeling that you want to have – that winning feeling, so you don’t want to lose. Like, losing is not acceptable, that should never be acceptable. When you get addicted to winning it’s just a whole different environment, a whole different tempo, and everybody’s buying into what we do. When everybody’s dialed in and buying in to what we preach and what we work on day in and day out it only gets better.”
A senior, Howell hasn’t grabbed much fuel for his addiction during his time at FAU. All three of his previous seasons concluded with a 3-9 record.
Life’s different now. Winners of consecutive games and three of their last four, the Owls have already matched those win totals from the previous seasons.
“Everyone has confidence,” wide receiver John Franklin said. “We know what we can do because we put it on film. It’s an expectation now, so now it’s not a surprise to everybody. It’s expected of us.”
Consecutive wins will boost the energy of most any team, but they are more meaningful to FAU than most teams because recent years have seen so few back-to-back wins.
When North Texas (4-2, 3-0) enters Howard Schenllenberger Field on Saturday the Mean Green will face an Owls’ team looking to win three consecutive games for the first time since 2013.
“We feel more confident in what we do now,” senior wide receiver Henry Bussey said. “It feels good because we know that we worked so hard for this.”
Saturday’s contest is a battle of two division leaders in Conference USA. FAU, (3-3, 2-0) fields its best team since joining Conference USA in 2013. In years past FAU players gave lip service this late in the season to the idea they were still playing for a Conference USA title.
This year concept of meaningful late season games seems tangible.
“Me and Nick Internicola, we talk about it,” redshirt senior defensive end Haiden Nagel said. “Even before the season I’m like, we feel really good about it. I’m ready for it, bowl eligibility and conference champ. We were always talking about that before the season and even during the season now. But it’s really more focusing each game right now.”
The next step toward a Conference USA championship would be a win on Saturday. FAU hasn’t won four games in a season since 2013, but that elusive fourth victory isn’t being treated like a glass ceiling through which the Owls must burst.
“I had not thought about it that way – that it’s more than they’re used to,” first-year coach Lane Kiffin said. “Obviously that would not be a goal to just have four wins.”
The goals, of course, are six wins – which brings bowl eligibility – and eight wins, which would put FAU in the Conference USA Championship game.
“Being a South Florida native, FAU hasn’t really been one of the good teams for a long time,” said Franklin, who began his career at Florida St. and played at Auburn before transferring to FAU for his final season. “Knowing that, being from here, now that I am part of it I can see things starting to change. You can see from the beginning of the season, each week we’ve improved. We might not have won in the early part of the season but we’ve improved on little things and now you can start seeing that confidence getting us on a roll.”
And that confidence, drawn from winning, often begets more winning.
“I love to win,” wide receiver Pico Harrison said. “Winning is fun to me.”
BOCA RATON – Riding its first win streak of the season, FAU welcomes a 4-2 North Texas squad – the toughest C-USA opponent the Owls have faced yet – as its homecoming opponent.
The Mean Green ranks in the Top 30 nationally for total offense and can move the ball through the air and on the ground.
FAU has had a bye week to prepare for what could potentially be a pre C-USA championship game.
The Owls should receive come help in matching the Mean Green’s explosive offense with the reinstatement of wide receiver Kalib Woods, adding size and experience to the receiving unit. The Mean Green have only three interceptions on the season.
FAU has already matched their win total for last year and UNT with a win Saturday will do the same. Both teams who were near the bottom of C-USA last year have made strides to show they are the best teams in C-USA.
THE FILE: FAU (3-3, 2-0) vs. UNT (4-2, 3-0)
The Series: FAU leads the series 6-4
Last Meeting: North Texas 31, FAU 10 (2014)
NORTH TEXAS OFFENSE: FAU will once again goes against another spread offense team. Averaging more than 300 yards per game passing and boasting a Top 15 running back in the nation, The Mean Green own C-USA’s top offense. This could be the Owls toughest offense they face all year in conference play.
Offensive Players to Watch:
- 6, Mason Fine, So., QB: Could be the toughest QB FAU will face all year. Through six games he has 1,976 passing yards and 14 scores. Fine is averaging nearly 300 yards a game passing. He will face a tough task with the improved FAU secondary but he can light up the scoreboard this game.
- 3, Jeffery Wilson, Sr. RB: Currently No. 12 nationally in rushing, Wilson is an explosive player. Racking up 749 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, he is a threat to the FAU defense. Against Southern Mississippi, he scored three touchdowns on 148 rushing yards.
- 9, Jalen Guyton, R-So., WR: Fine’s favorite target, Guyton has 32 receptions for 626 yards and seven scores. He can be a deep threat for the Mean Green.
NORTH TEXAS DEFENSE: North Texas runs a 3-4 defense with rushing linebackers. North Texas will line up three defensive linemen and two linebackers inside the FAU tackles. It’s a scheme similar to what Navy and Wisconsin employed in limiting FAU to its two worst rushing games of the year. They use the linebackers as extra rushers but vary the rushing linebacker from down to down. The UNT weakness is against the pass. They rank No. 106 in the nation in opposing passing yards per game, allowing 262 yards. The corners have not been turnover machines either, only nabbing three interceptions this year.
Defensive Players to Watch:
- 18, Josh Wheeler, Sr. DE/LB: Wheeler plays the “jack” linebacker for the Mean Green. On some plays he’ll function as a linebacker and other he’ll be a defensive end. Wheeler’s stats this season aren’t all that impressive – 14 tackles, 3.5 for loss, two sacks. But part of that stems from him missing one game and not starting another. North Texas also tried him at different spot before moving him back to the “jack” after a few games. Last season he led North Texas with 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
- 22, E.J. Ejiya, R-JR, LB: Began the season playing the “jack” position before switching to the weak side linebacker – a spot where he’s more comfortable. Ejiya is the second leading tackler on the team with 45. His specialty though is to getting to the passer. He leads the team with four and a half sacks and blitzes often for the Mean Green. He also has six and a half tackles for a loss.
- 4, Khairi Muhammad, So. S: Leads UNT with 52 tackles. Despite playing safety, he has three tackles for a loss and a half of a sack. Look for him to blitz FAU QB Jason Driskel.
A Tale of Two Busseys: Both teams have receivers whose last names are Bussey. Not a common name, both have different impacts on the team. With 13 receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, UNT’s Rico Bussey, who hails from Oklahoma, is making the bigger impact this season. While FAU’s Henry Henry Bussey is more of a special teams feature this season as his offensive stats are quiet (which can be said for most of the Owls’ wide receivers as the passing game continues to struggle). He only has seven catches for 38 yards and no touchdowns on the year playing in the slot.
A Real Kick: UNT’s kicker Trevor Moore has become the program’s best kicker and currently holds eight different kicking records for the Mean Green. He has taken over the record for most PAT attempts made with 122 and has an over 60 consecutive extra points made.
Suspended for the first six games of the season, Woods received clearance to play during a school disciplinary hearing held Thursday.
“I applaud the university or doing the right thing despite the fact that criminal charges re still pending,” Gottlieb said.
Last year’s leading receiver, Woods pleaded not guilty to charges which stem from a January fight in an off campus party that led to the hospitalization of two FAU students. On Monday in a hearing held to check the status of the case, the court set Woods’ next appearance date for January 10.
Woods was barred from campus and removed from the football roster following the arrest, but FAU rescinded the No Trespass order during the opening week of the fall semester.
FAU stripped Woods of his scholarship but allowed him to return to the team. He has practiced with the Owls but didn’t take the field for their first six games.
The Owls also suspended wide receiver Kamrin Solomon for his alleged role in the same altercation. Solomon served a two-game suspension before returning to the field.
Woods’ return allows him to play in FAU’s homecoming game.
As a redshirt junior, Woods caught 68 passes for 934 yards last season. In his career he’s hauled in 111 passes for 1,487 yards and six scores.
That’s not the case this week, when North Texas comes to Boca Raton to serve as Florida Atlantic’s homecoming opponent. North Texas sits atop Conference USA’s West Division with a 3-0 record in conference play. At 2-0 in C-USA, FAU is tied for the top spot in the East Division.
Does that make this one of the biggest games ever played at Howard Schnellenberger Field? ESPN West Palm’s Brian Rowitz and our Chuck King attempt to decide where this game ranks.
We also tackle the issues with the FAU passing game and even look back at the first FAU bowl team ever – that 2007 squad which will be honored during Saturday’s game.
FAU players say they are sensing increased excitement heading into the game. Get ready for what could turn out to be one of the biggest nights in FAU program history by listening to OwlTalk, the first and still finest FAU football podcast.
Happy homecoming FAU fans. See you on Saturday.
While checking FAU’s 2013 roster for a story about players from the last bowl eligible FAU team who are also members of the current team, I stumbled across an FAU trivia question – one that even the most ardent Owl supporters haven’t answered correctly.
That 2013 FAU defense, how many players eventually made an NFL regular season roster?
Take a moment to consider it, the advertisement below this question will help keep you from cheating.
The answer? Nine FAU defensive players from the 2013 drew an NFL regular-season paycheck as a member of an active roster. And that number could potentially reach double figures.
Include players who signed with NFL teams but were released before seeing any action and the total climbs to 13 defensive players from that team who had a legitimate opportunity to play NFL football.
“That’s crazy just thinking about it,” said current defense lineman Haiden Nagel, the last remaining defensive player from that 2013 roster.
FAU Becomes Bowl Eligible
With nine future NFL players on the defensive side of the ball, FAU ranked No. 11 nationally by allowing only 328.8 yards per game.
That 2013 team became bowl eligible by winning its final four games under interim coach Brian Wright to post a 6-6 record, but the Owls did not receive a bid. The current FAU team has the best shot of reaching a bowl since the 2008 Owls who won the Motor City Bowl
“We could have easily been 8-4, and that would have looked a lot better,” defensive tackle Brandin Bryant said of the 2013 Owls. “There was a lot of talent on that team.”
NFL teams drafted cornerbacks Keith Reaser and D’Joun Smith, linebacker Randell Johnson and defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
Defensive tackles Trevon Coley and Bryant, cornerback Cre’von LeBlanc, linebacker Adarius Glanton, and safety Sharrod Neasman all made rosters as undrafted free agents.
The number of NFL players from that defense could rise to 10 at any moment. Safety Damian Parms spent last season on Buffalo’s practice roster and currently sits on the Carolina Panthers practice squad but has yet to be elevated to the active roster. Additionally, free agent defensive tackle Shalom Ogbonda participated in the New York Jets preseason camp and could join an NFL team.
And with a strong finish to this season, Nagel could draw interest from NFL scouts.
By comparison, FAU’s first bowl team, which will be honored at Saturday’s homecoming game against North Texas, produced only five NFL players. One of them, running back Alfred Morris, redshirted that season, never seeing the field.
Ogbonda, safety Christian Milstead and linebacker Andrae Kirk signed with NFL teams and attended camps but were released before the start of their seasons.
Additionally, defensive end Martin Wright enjoyed a few years in the Canadian Football League.
FAU Recruiting Team of Pros
Of the nine players who made rosters, three (Johnson, Reaser and Smith) were brought to FAU by the Howard Schnellenberger regime. The other six signed with FAU during the tenure of Carl Pelini and his recruiting coordinator Jeff Sims. Ogbonda straddled the line, committing to the Schnellenbrger-led Owls but not signing until after Pelini took over the program.
“Florida Atlantic has a broad appeal throughout the state and across the country,” Sims said. “If someone does a tremendous job of looking at talent, not looking for recruiting rankings and those things, you’re going to be able to find that guy that’s talented and hungry, though a little bit overlooked. And if you can connect all the dots he’s going to want to come to Florida Atlantic because it’s a great place. If you do that, you put in the hard work, you’re going to end up with a talent level that’s better than what the other Conference USA football teams have.”
Prior to Pelini and Sims, FAU almost exclusively recruited within the Sunshine State. Sims’ experience in the land of junior college football allowed FAU to widen its recruiting base (He’s back in junior college, where we won the national title last year as the head coach at Garden City Community College).
Current coach Lane Kiffin and his staff employed a similar recruiting strategy this past recruiting cycle, landing a class full of junior college players and high schoolers who hail from the likes of Georgia, Alabama and Texas and New York. It was widely touted as the best recruiting class in C-USA.
Pelini and Sims were the first to place an emphasis on junior college recruits. Though there were some notable misses, Glanton and Bryant both came to FAU from junior colleges.
Overlooked coming out of high school because he played mostly linebacker, Bryant originally signed with Seattle upon his graduation from FAU before being released. He spent last season with the New York Jets.
Glanton attended five junior colleges looking for the right fit before signing with the Owls, Sims said. In his fourth NFL season, the third with Tampa Bay. Glanton is enjoying a breakout year.
Sims said he never worked harder to get a player eligible than he did with Glanton, but once FAU and the NCAA accepted the paperwork Glanton proved to be a model teammate.
“The kids who made mistakes and have had to struggle to correct them, a lot of times they’re no issue once they get to your place because they appreciate what they have; where some guys who maybe have not been through some of the tough stuff, they don’t appreciate it enough,” Sims said.
Offensively, the 2013 Owls only had one player make an NFL roster. Lucky Whitehead signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, where his primary contributions came as a kickoff and punt returner. Dallas released Whitehead over the summer. He signed with the N. Y. Jets, but injured his foot before the start of the season.
Fellow wide receiver Jenson Stoshak signed with Carolina in 2016 after exhausting his FAU eligibility but the Panthers released him prior to the start of that season. Offensive lineman Dillon DeBoer signed with the Los Angeles Chargers this past May. An injury stalled his NFL career – at least for the moment.
And little used running back Martese Jackson, who carried the ball nine times for 27 yards in 2013, recently enjoyed his first season with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.
“We’re a better team now than then, but we were still a good team back then,” Nagel said.
2013 FAU Owls in the NFL
- Brandin Bryant (FA) – His six sacks tied for second on the Owls in 2013. Recorded 51 tackles, including 9.5 for loss. Could sign again with an NFL club soon.
- Trevon Coley (Cle) – Credited with 37 tackles, two of them sacks, in his sophomore season. First full season on the Browns active roster off to a strong start.
- Adarius Glanton (TB) – His 75 tackles were third most on 2013 team. Recorded eight tackles for loss. Enjoying a breakout season for the Bucs.
- Trey Hendrickson (NO) – Made nine tackles, including 1.5 sacks as a true freshman. First NFL sack part of five tackles thus far as a rookie.
- Randell Johnson (FA) – Credited with 41 tackles, including 7.5 for loss in 2013. Played for Buffalo and the New York Jets.
- Cre’von LeBlanc (Chi) – Started three games as a sophomore nickel back for FAU, recording 24 tackles. In his second season as a key piece of the Bears’ secondary.
- Sharrod Neasman (Atl) – Recorded five tackles as a walk-on in 2013. Became first Owl to play in a Super Bowl.
- Keith Reaser (KC PS) – Injured midway through the season, broke up four passes and made six tackles in 2013. Released earlier this season by San Francisco. Signed to Kansas City’s practice squad.
- D’Joun Smith (FA) – Tied a program record with seven interceptions in 2013 on his way to becoming an All-Conference USA selection. Highest drafted Owl in program history.
It’s also a game for bragging rights between the titans of high school football.
“Basically, they say Florida and Texas have the best high school football, so now you’ve got a team from Florida and a team from Texas playing against each other,” McNeal said. “It will be a great experience. I’m excited for it.”
North Texas, located in the Dallas suburb of Denton, lists a roster overwhelmingly populated by players from the Lone Star State. An even larger percentage of FAU’s players hail from the Sunshine State.
Linebacker Mylam Peters is the lone Floridian to appear on the Mean Green roster. McNeal, a wide receiver, is one of three Texans on FAU’s squad and will likely be the lone Texas native to hit the field for the Owls.
Last weekend’s bye offered McNeal a chance to return to Texas for the weekend, and he couldn’t pass up a trip to the famed Texas State Fair.
Although the Red River Rivalry game between Texas and Oklahoma served as the featured attraction among football-minded attendees, there were a few fair goers who saw a fairly well-known Texas native chomping on a turkey drumstick and wanted to talk about a different football game – of all things, a Conference USA game.
“I actually went to the fair with my FAU shirt on,” McNeal said. “I saw a lot of people that I knew when I played at Texas that definitely asked about the game. It was a great feeling.”
McNeal grew up about about 45 minutes from Denton, Texas, home to the University of North Texas. He began his college career playing for the University of Texas, but after electing to transfer to Fullerton College, North Texas became one of the most serious contenders for McNeal’s services this season.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound wide out from Mesquite chose FAU over North Texas and UCLA. Now he’ll likely play a prominent role in Saturday’s game between two of the three remaining unbeatens in Conference USA play.
McNeal knows three players he’ll face on Saturday well from youth football.
“I know for sure they are going to expect a lot of out me just because of where I’m from,” McNeal said.
FAU’s leading receiver, McNeal caught 22 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns through the Owls’ first six games. Most of those plays came early in the season, with FAU’s ground game taking the lead in recent weeks.
With North Texas bringing with it to Boca Raton a rushing defense that ranks in the top third nationally by allowing only 136.0 rushing yards per game, the Owls may need McNeal to show he’s crossed the mythical Florida/Texas border to ensure Florida Atlantic secures its first-ever 3-0 start in Conference USA play.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s blocking or catching the ball and getting up field – just being a football player is what really amps me up, actually,” McNeal said. “And just being a part of this team.”
BOCA RATON – Looking at the way FAU’s season is unfolding, program founder Howard Schnellenberger sees this week’s homecoming game against North Texas as the game that could truly launch the Owls into Conference USA title contention.
“One game gives you a taste,” Schnellenberger said. “Two games gives you hope. Three wins gives you confidence. One win or two wins, that third win you start getting really confident. They get this next win, they’ve got something in their knapsack. They’ve got the credentials.”
Coming off a bye week preceded by consecutive wins, FAU will try to earn that third straight win against a Mean Green team that’s leading C-USA’s West Division.
After a slow start to the season, Schnellenberger senses the Owls are putting it all together.
“I don’t feel it, but I smell it,” Schnellenberger said. “It looks like it’s got the taste of the formula, of the plan that could get them to be pretty good.”
Winners of three of their last four games – a stretch in which the Owls tided their win total in each of the past three seasons – Schnellenberger expects the Owls to continue to post victories.
“It gives you hope – that’s the biggest thing it does,” Schnellenberger said. “Hallelujah! We can play.”
The last time FAU fans really reveled in that feeling, Schenllenberger led the Owls.
On Saturday Florida Atlantic will honor what was the most talented of Schnellenberger’s teams.
The 2007 squad claimed the Sun Belt Conference title in the Owls first year of eligibility, then defeated Memphis in New Orleans for the program’s first-ever bowl victory.
“We were growing our [fan] base hand over fist,” Schnellenberger said. “For us to get that many people to get on that airplane and go up to New Orleans, and others driving there in their cars, that was pretty neat for a startup school.”
On the way to the New Orleans Bowl FAU earned its first, and to this point only, victory over a Power Five team, beating Minnesota 42-39. The Owls also closed the season with three consecutive wins, including a 55-23 Shula Bowl shellacking of FIU.
That year a sophomore quarterback named Rusty Smith threw for 3,688 yards and 32 touchdowns – totals that remain FAU single season records.
“Rusty Smith was a hero that carried us on his back during the years he was here,” Schnellenberger said.
The Owls weren’t one dimensional that season. Charles Pierre gained 782 yards on the ground. Cortez Gent caught 64 passes for 1,082 yards and nine TDs. Tight end Jason Harmon caught 63 passes for 825 yards and five scores.
The same nucleus returned the following season to lead FAU to its second consecutive bowl victory.
“Those two [bowl] games are what really gave the administration and the student body and the athletic department a reason to start thinking about a stadium,” Schnellenberger said.
Ten years after that first bowl win, Schnellenberger will enter that stadium, which opened in 2011- his final season, and stand on the field named for him while he and his players are honored for taking FAU on the first bowl ride in program history.
“We started the season with the goal of a bowl,” Schnellenberger said. “It didn’t surprise us. That was a goal. We made pretty even improvement. Our march during that year to a bowl game wasn’t spectacular but it was a great feat for that football team.”
Winning consecutive games, it seems, is a good start when it comes to building a fan base, but it’s only that – a start.
“We’ve got to do some more to earn some more respect and get everybody to buy in, keep the streak alive,” running back Buddy Howell said. “That’s how you get your fan base up. That’s how you get people more interested – when you’ve got a streak and they actually want to see you and stuff like that. Some people are actually paying attention and congratulating us and stuff like that. It’s a great vibe. We’ve just got to keep working harder because we want everybody on board – community, people in school, people around, West Palm Beach, Boca all that. We want all that to come and watch us.”
FAU dominated Old Dominion and soundly thrashed Middle Tennessee in its last two outings. Toss in a 45-0 drubbing of Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 16, and the Owls have won three of their last four games, placing them in a tie for first atop Confernce USA’s East Division.
A win over North Texas in Saturday’s homecoming game will give FAU its first three-game winning streak since 2013 – the last time the Owls were bowl eligible.
The Owls are playing as well as they have since that 2013 streak and are detecting ripples of added energy on campus.
“Just being around the (cafeteria) and stuff like that you just can tell it’s a different energy,” linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair said. “Everybody’s excited, happy to be a part of FAU.”
Neither Al-Shaair nor Howell believes this past weekend’s bye did anything to drain the momentum FAU is building.
What it did do, however, was let Al-Shaair get healthier.
“I feel better than I did last Monday, definitely,” said Al-Shaair, who’s been battling an arm injury that forced him to miss FAU’s game at Buffalo – the Owls’ most recent loss. “It was funny because I was talking about it with some of the guys even coming in. Obviously, if we would have had a game last week it would have been way different.”
While Al-Shaair was given some time this past week to let his arm recover, overall the Owls focused on being physical.
Lane Kiffin wanted to see an improved tackling team heading before facing North Texas.
“We got after it those few days that we were in contact,” Al-Shaair said. “We definitely got out there.”
Leaders of Conference USA’s West Division, North Texas (4-2, 3-0) comes to Boca Raton winners of their past three, all Conference USA games.
In a Monday tweet, FAU predicted a full student section for the game.
“Every week is going to be a fight,” Al-Shaair said. “This conference is kind of up for grabs. Every week you are competing for a conference championship per se, but you always want to stay focused on who’s in front of you and not try to get too far down the road.”