Football: 2015 Game Predictions

Sports Editor Ryan Lynch gives his predictions for all 12 games this upcoming season.

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Football: 2015 Game Predictions

Quarterback Jaquez Johnson celebrates after scoring his second touchdown in FAU’s 45-38 win over WKU last season. With a new number and less weight on him, Quez and his teammates will fight for a conference championship. Photo by Michelle Friswell

Quarterback Jaquez Johnson celebrates after scoring his second touchdown in FAU’s 45-38 win over WKU last season. With a new number and less weight on him, Quez and his teammates will fight for a conference championship. Photo by Michelle Friswell

Michelle Friswell

Quarterback Jaquez Johnson celebrates after scoring his second touchdown in FAU’s 45-38 win over WKU last season. With a new number and less weight on him, Quez and his teammates will fight for a conference championship. Photo by Michelle Friswell

Michelle Friswell

Michelle Friswell

Quarterback Jaquez Johnson celebrates after scoring his second touchdown in FAU’s 45-38 win over WKU last season. With a new number and less weight on him, Quez and his teammates will fight for a conference championship. Photo by Michelle Friswell

Ryan Lynch, Sports Editor

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Correction: An earlier version of this story stated the Shula Bowl would be played for the first time at FAU Stadium.  In reality, the Shula Bowl has been played at the stadium twice before, making this year’s game the third iteration of the series.

After a debut season filled with hope but ending with only three wins, second-year head coach Charlie Partridge is looking to put last year in the rearview mirror and learn from past mistakes. With a roster full of fresh faces, along with a few guys who have matured from last season, the Owls seem to have started moving forward. Here are my game predictions for next year:

Sept. 5 at Tulsa

Win, 35-17

Last season, Tulsa came to FAU Stadium for the Owls’ first home game of the season. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson threw for 323 passing yards and three touchdowns in the 50-21 victory. Expect the senior to have another huge game, despite losing his most targeted receiver, Lucky Whitehead, to graduation. After a 2-10 season and a new coaching hire in Phillip Montgomery, the Golden Hurricane will not roll over like last time. They will however, lack the cohesion to stop the Owls when it counts, giving the Owls their first win of the year and breaking their road losing streak (which sits at seven games).

Defensive Back Cre'von LeBlanc stretches his arms out in the rain during last year's game versus Tulsa. Photo by Max Jackson

Defensive Back Cre’von LeBlanc stretches his arms out in the rain during last year’s 50-21 win versus Tulsa. Photo by Max Jackson

Sept. 11 vs. Miami

Loss, 28-13

Miami will become the first team from a power five conference to ever play FAU at home when they visit the Owls for their first home game of the season. Originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12, the game was moved to Friday to put it on national television. Expect fatigue to play a role in the game for FAU, who have one less day of rest to work with because of the change, and will have to travel back from Oklahoma. The Hurricanes will roll against the Owls despite being without all-time leading rusher and running back Duke Johnson, who exhausted his eligibility after declaring for the NFL draft at the end of last season.

Sept. 18 vs. Buffalo

Win, 31-21

Buffalo will undoubtedly be an interesting matchup for the Owls, being only the second time in school history FAU has played a team from the Mid-American Conference (they beat Central Michigan 24-21 in 2008). The Blues had the 39th best ranked offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) last year, scoring 52 total touchdowns. Defensive back Lester Thomas and Linebacker Cre’von LeBlanc will both need to step up and make big plays to keep Buffalo off the scoreboard, but the Owls will take this one out of uncharted territory for their first home victory this year.

Sept. 26 at Charlotte

Win, 42-14

Charlotte, who is entering its first year as an FBS program after being formed in 2013, will undoubtedly have its hands full against Jaquez Johnson’s attack. The 49ers’ defense gave up an average of 477.5 yards to FCS teams last season, and the Owls will take full advantage of the 5-6 team. Charlotte needs quite a few more years of recruiting to compete in Conference USA, especial since they have not played a team from the top division in their program’s short history. Look for newcomer Daniel Parr to get some playtime if the score gets too lopsided. The freshman quarterback from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida fought for the backup QB spot after impressing the coaching staff during the spring.

Oct. 10 vs. Rice

Loss, 21-17

The Owls previously played Rice in 2013 to an 18-14 loss, in what was a very close matchup. Expect much of  the same here against an offense that scored on 92 percent of its trips into the red zone. FAU will have to slug it out with one of the better defenses in C-USA in this battle of the Owls, but Jaquez Johnson only threw five interceptions all of last year. If FAU holds onto the ball, they have a chance. This is one of a few games this season that could go either way, especially because the game is in Boca Raton, but Rice gets the edge here.

Oct. 17 vs. Marshall

Win, 28-27

FAU football has yet to win a matchup against Marshall in program history, but that could change this coming season. The Thundering Herd graduated both quarterback Rakeem Cato and wide receiver Tommy Schuler from the second best offense in the FBS, likely losing some of their punch from last year’s 13-1 team. Marshall running back Devon Johnson ran for four touchdowns vs. the Owls last season, in a 35-16 victory for his team.  The Owls must keep control of the returning senior to stay in this important conference game. FAU won three out of five home games in 2014, so expect the trend of winning at home to continue against the Herd with another victory.

Oct. 24 at UTEP

Win 21-14

University of Texas at El Paso finished last season 7-6, and were one of five teams in C-USA to go to a bowl game (Marshall, Rice, Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky were the others). UTEP should continue to be a solid team this year under third-year head coach Sean Kugler, returning an experienced defense that forced 21 turnovers in 13 games. Running backs Jay Warren and Greg Howell have the potential to run amok on the Miners, who gave up an average of 176.8 rush yards a game against opponents in the past season. The 1,900 miles to El Paso will be the Owls’ longest trip this season.

Oct. 31 vs. Florida International

Win, 28-21

One of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season will be the Shula Bowl vs. Florida International, which will be played at FAU stadium for the third time in its history. Last season the Panthers came out victorious, 38-10, after not allowing FAU to score once in the second half because of their strong defensive effort. The Owls need to play a full 60 minutes to come out with the win against the scrappy Panthers, something that was exposed during multiple games last season.  However, the Owls will fix their inability to perform in the second half, translating to redemption for Partridge and company. Expect a huge crowd for this game, something seldom seen at home for the Owls.

Nov. 7 at Western Kentucky

Loss, 33-21

Western Kentucky went 8-5 last season, and were ranked in the top five for total offense as well as the bottom 10 teams for total defense. These rankings showed when the Owls faced the Hilltoppers in Boca Raton last year, with WKU leading by 14 at the half but ultimately giving up 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, to lose 45-38. Quarterback Brandon Doughty returns to lead the Toppers, who have placed a new focus on defense that will make leaps and bounds over the past season’s unit. Western Kentucky won’t let another one slip away from them. Expect a rough night in Bowling Green for the Owls, who will still need to work at winning road games.

Wide receiver Jenson Stoshak makes a catch during last season's game versus Western Kentucky. Photo by Mohammed Emran

Wide receiver Jenson Stoshak makes a catch during last season’s 45-38 win versus Western Kentucky. Photo by Mohammed Emran

Nov. 14 vs. Middle Tennessee

Win, 50-45

Middle Tennessee has won their last seven matchups against the Owls, including last season’s 35-34 come-from-behind victory in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders are a very resilient team, and have beat FAU by an average of 8.3 points a game in the past seven years. Offensive Coordinator Brian Wright’s higher tempo offense (which should be in full swing by this point in the season) will put MTSU on its heels and keep them guessing. The slow tempo of 2014’s offense gave defenses ample time to get ready, but chalk that up to the learning process under coach Partridge. The Owls win in an offensive shootout, with both defenses taking punches throughout the game.

Nov. 21 at Florida

Loss, 35-14

Florida went 7-5 last season, and continue to rebuild after years of middle of the road play under ex-head coach Will Muschamp. The Owls will head to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, a place where the Gators have seldom lost in the school’s history. FAU has scored an average of 11.5 points compared to 50 given up in two previous matchups between teams, so don’t expect an offensive firestorm from the Owls. Florida is far from the team that won two national championships years ago, but the Gators’ superior athletic talent and ability to recruit is obvious. FAU is being paid $1 million by UF to come play, so they will take the money and run in this one.

Nov. 28 at Old Dominion

Win, 28-21

Old Dominion went 6-6 in their first season in the FBS, impressive in the grand scheme of things for the Monarchs. ODU is a young team, with only 12 seniors graduating at the end of the year. Last season, the Owls dropped their season finale to the Monarchs 31-28, losing their lead late after holding it much of the game. This year will end different, with the Owls gaining a hard-earned win in Norfolk, and possibly elevating themselves higher in the conference standings.

Final Record: 8-4

With the loss of quality contributors on both sides of the ball, the Owls will undoubtedly have their hands full with finding players to step up for them in key late-game situations that they struggled heavily with in the last year. But with a veteran offense, including a senior QB at the helm, the potential for big production is limitless. The Owls are a longshot to fight for the C-USA tournament, but expect them to be in one of the 42 bowl games come December.

Ryan Lynch is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For tips regarding this or other articles, He can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter.  For more on Owls football, check out the University Press football issue when it comes out in newsstands Sept. 1.