Florida Atlantic will be playing in the familiar surroundings of their home stadium in Saturday’s Boca Raton Bowl, although a familiar face will not be on the sideline.
The Owls (10-3) will square off against SMU (10-2) without head coach Lane Kiffin, who announced earlier this month that he’s returning to the Southeastern Conference and joining Ole Miss.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will serve as the interim coach for Florida Atlantic, which posted a 26-13 record with a Conference USA championship in Kiffin’s three seasons at the helm.
Willie Taggart signed a five-year contract last week to serve as the next head coach of the Owls.
“Our guys are working their tails off, especially with the situation like it is and just some uncertainty right now,” Spencer said. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this team, the way these guys are practicing, when human nature would say, let’s try to cut a corner here or there. That’s been so refreshing to me.”
While Florida Atlantic finished third in C-USA in scoring defense (22.3 points allowed per game), the scoreboard operator likely will be busy on Saturday as both schools have shown a penchant to rapidly move up and down the field.
The Mustangs rank tied for sixth in points per game (43.0) while the Owls are tied for 16th (35.2), marking the lone bowl matchup between top-20 offenses outside of the playoff.
With Shane Buechele manning the controls, SMU set school records in scoring average and yards per game (495.3, ninth in FBS) this season. The junior quarterback led the American Athletic Conference in passing yards (3,626) and passing touchdowns (33) in his first year at the school after transferring from Texas.
Wideout James Proche has reeled in 102 passes for 1,139 yards, while his 14 touchdowns are tied for third-most in the country. Proche is one of 12 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, recognizing college football’s outstanding FBS receiver regardless of position.
Xavier Jones, who is was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, has rushed for 21 touchdowns — tied for second-most in the nation.
The Mustangs will try their luck against Florida Atlantic, which won its sixth consecutive contest with a convincing 49-6 romp over Alabama-Birmingham in the Conference-USA title game. The Owls will also have home-field advantage by playing at FAU Stadium, where they defeated Akron 50-3 in the Boca Raton Bowl in 2017.
SMU coach Sonny Dykes said he isn’t concerned with the contest being a true road game for his team.
“My perspective is I don’t think any of us really care too much about that,” Dykes said in a recent conference call with reporters. “I don’t think that’s certainly going to affect the way we prepare. Our players won’t be concerned about that. That’s sometimes the way things go when it comes to bowl games. Little bit unusual, but that’s not going to have any impact on us.”
Sophomore quarterback Chris Robison (C-USA leading 3,396 passing yards) is at the controls and has a trusted target in Harrison Bryant (65 receptions, 1,004 yards, seven touchdowns), who won the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in college football.
Malcolm Davidson leads the ground game with 711 yards and nine touchdowns.
–Field Level Media