Football: 2016 game predictions

Sports Editor Brendan Feeney picks the result of all 12 games for the upcoming season.

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Football: 2016 game predictions

Junior wide receiver Henry Bussey steps to avoid a defender during an Aug. 17 practice. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Junior wide receiver Henry Bussey steps to avoid a defender during an Aug. 17 practice. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Junior wide receiver Henry Bussey steps to avoid a defender during an Aug. 17 practice. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Junior wide receiver Henry Bussey steps to avoid a defender during an Aug. 17 practice. Ryan Lynch | Editor in Chief

Brendan Feeney, Sports Editor

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Correction: The original version of this story stated Florida Atlantic’s game versus Charlotte was an away game. The game is actually a home game for the Owls.

C

oming off consecutive 3-9 seasons, the time is now for Florida Atlantic football to take that next step.

Last year the team began 2-8 when they visited the No. 8 ranked University of Florida Gators. Many expected the Owls to be nothing more than Gator bait, including Florida head coach Jim McElwain who told the Orlando Sentinel that FAU’s roster “is full of guys who wish they were Gators.”

FAU battled the Gators into overtime before falling 20-14. The next week the Owls traveled to Old Dominion and took home a victory to close out the season.

Will they be able to carry that momentum into this season? Check out our predictions here:

Sept. 3 versus Southern Illinois

The season opener for both teams will debut more than just the 2016 season. FAU’s offense will be playing in its first game under new offensive coordinator Travis Trickett.

Meanwhile Football Championship Subdivision member Southern Illinois will have its first field test under new defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson and new offensive coordinator John Van Dam.

It also will be redshirt sophomore Jason Driskel debut as the team’s No. 1 starting quarterback.

Both teams, especially the units playing under a new scheme, will be rusty and they will likely make mistakes. However the mistakes the new Southern Illinois defense make will be the most crucial, especially since their first game is against a unique, fast-tempo, no-huddle offense which makes defensive continuity hard to come by.

Add in the fact that Southern Illinois new offense will have to deal with senior defensive end Trey Hendrickson, Bednarik Award watch list member and Conference USA Defensive Preseason Player of the Year, along with four other preseason all-conference team members and the Salukis will be in for a long day in Boca Raton.

Expect running backs, junior Greg Howell and senior Jay Warren, to make the quarterbacks 2016 debut as simple as possible by running the Owls to victory.

SIU 16, FAU 27 (Record: 1-0)

Sept. 10 at the University of Miami

The atmosphere for FAU’s second game of the season will be unlike any the team will experience, barring a conference championship appearance. It will be the Hurricane’s home opener and they will most likely be fresh off of a season-opening victory against Florida A&M.

Coming off a win of their own, head coach Charlie Partridge will refuse his players to be a victim of their surroundings. Instead of falling behind, a focused, inspired performance similar to last year’s University of Florida game will keep the game close through halftime.

For the Owls to have any chance of upsetting the Hurricanes in Miami, the offensive line will have to create enough space for the running backs to take care of the second-worst rush defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference from a season ago. On the defensive side, Hendrickson’s pass-rush crew will have to keep consistent pressure on Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya.

Kaaya is the consensus second-best quarterback prospect, in terms of the 2017 NFL Draft. Expect the Owls to slow down the winds of the Hurricanes, but ultimately fall short.

FAU 20, Miami 26 (1-1)

Sept. 17 at Kansas State University

The Wildcats regressed from being ranked as high as seventh in the nation in 2014 to a 6-7 season a year ago. Unfortunately for the Owls, KSU will be facing the eighth-ranked Stanford Cardinal in its opener with a bye-week following.

They will likely be laser focused from two-weeks worth of practices following a tough loss in the season-opener. Or, they will prove that an improvement has been made and the WIldcats beat the Cardinal. Neither scenario works out in favor of the Owls.

The FAU defense will make life tough for Kansas State’s offense. However the Wildcats defensive line will make things even harder for the Owls — who will still have the feeling of coming up just short in Miami still in their system.

FAU 13, Kansas State 31 (1-2)

Sept. 24 versus Ball State

Following a bad loss in Kansas, Partridge’s team will look to prove that their efforts from the first two weeks were no fluke. Ball State, who is also coming off of a 3-9 record in 2015, isn’t expected to make much of an improvement this season.

Expect the Owls to control the Cardinals on both offense and defense in their second home game of the season and for Driskel to have a career-game against the defense that allowed the second-most points and yards in the Mid-American Conference last year.

Ball State 10, FAU 34 (2-2)

Oct. 1 at Florida International

The Owls will visit their in-state rival in the 2016 Conference USA opener. Coming off a relatively easy win over Ball State to even their record at 2-2, Florida International is the perfect game to push the Owls into their first winning record since they won their season opener in 2012 (they went on to lose six straight games, starting the season 1-6).

FAU defeated the Golden Panthers in last year’s Shula Bowl 31-17 to improve to 10-4 all time in the rivalry. The running game was the ultimate difference in last year’s contest as FAU ran for 229 yards, compared to 66 FIU rush yards.

There is no reason to foresee much change in this year’s rendition. With the win the Owls will improve to 3-2, their first winning record after playing two games since 2007.

FAU 30, FIU 20 (3-2, 1-0 C-USA)

Oct. 8 versus Charlotte

FAU’s momentum keeps rolling into Boca Raton in the sixth game of the season, where they will battle with a team that failed to register a single conference win in 2015. Charlotte finished second-to-last in points per game in Conference USA while also allowing the second-most points.

The 49ers were able to manage opposing pass attacks, allowing the fourth-least passing yards per game in the conference, but were extremely prone to giving up rushing yards. On the other side of the ball, sophomore defensive back Ocie Rose intercepted two passes in last year’s game, including one he took 60 yards for a touchdown.

FAU 23, Charlotte 6 (4-2, 2-0 C-USA)

Oct. 15 at Marshall University

Marshall’s nickname, the Thundering Herd, was well represented in its 2015 matchup in Boca Raton. The Owls allowed 326 rushing yards and found themselves in a 25-10 halftime deficit before eventually losing 33-17.

While the gap has closed between the two programs, Marshall still sits on a higher peg than FAU. The Owls have the ability to pull off the major win in West Virginia. This is not likely, as the toll of playing seven straight games before a bye-week eventually will hit FAU when they go up against the conference’s best defense from last year.

FAU 13, Marshall 28 (4-3, 2-1 C-USA)

Oct. 29 versus Western Kentucky

The Owls will be tested immediately following their bye-week with a game against the reigning conference champions. However, the Hilltoppers will be without quarterback Brandon Doughty who carried the team to an undefeated record in-conference. His offense led Conference USA in total points scored (620), which 61 more than the next highest team.

With no Doughty at the helm, the rested Owls will bring the pressure all game long. The Hilltoppers, who will be playing their fifth game of October, won’t be able to keep up with Trickett’s “no huddle, no mercy” offense, allowing FAU to defeat the reigning champs.

Western Kentucky 23, FAU 31 (5-3, 3-1 C-USA)

Nov. 5 at Rice University

The Owls enter their ninth game with five wins. This means they have four shots at capturing that sixth win that pushes a team into a bowl game. FAU hasn’t appeared in a bowl game since its 2008 Motor City Bowl victory over Central Michigan.

Rice allowed the third-most points per game and the second-most yards per game. Its offense, which scored 26.1 points per game, was able to keep them afloat enough to earn five wins.

One of those victories came in a 12-point comeback in Boca Raton on Oct. 10 of last year. FAU led 26-14 with 13:50 left in the game, before Rice went on to score two touchdowns and beat FAU 27-26.

This time around, FAU will be sure to not get too comfortable with their lead, and finally become bowl eligible.

FAU 23, Rice 20 (6-3, 4-1 C-USA)

Nov. 12 versus the University of Texas at El Paso

After clinching their first bowl game in almost a decade, a little bit of weight will be lifted off the Owls. In the long term that is a positive, but not before its initial negative effect.

A slow start will allow UTEP to jump out to an early lead. FAU will slowly claw back but eventually time will run out before reaching the top of the hole. While the Owls will fall short, they will prove in the second half that they are the better team and that this was nothing more than a game that got away from them early.

FAU 24, UTEP 30 (6-4, 4-2 C-USA)

Nov. 19 versus Old Dominion University

FAU and Old Dominion have battled off twice so far in their respective histories. Old Dominion won in 2014 while the Owls got their redemption last year. In both meetings, the Monarchs scored 31 points.

Last season FAU jumped out to an early 24-3 lead behind three rushing touchdowns. Old Dominion fought its way back to take a 31-27 lead, but kicker Greg Joseph was able to knock through two field goals in the fourth quarter to retake the lead and take home the win.

After losing a game they should’ve won in the previous week, the Owls will bounce back and pick up their seventh win of the season.

Old Dominion 23, FAU 27 (7-4, 5-2 C-USA)

Nov. 26 at Middle Tennessee

If the first 11 games go as predicted, the season finale could be a play-in game for the conference championship. If not, this still could be a huge game for the Owls. Middle Tennessee, one of the preseason favorites to play in the Conference USA Championship game, has defeated FAU in their last eight meetings.

On top of breaking that eight-game losing streak, the Owls could very well find themselves fighting for a playoff spot, or fighting for the better bowl game. Unfortunately, Middle Tennessee will be fighting for the same and their home-field advantage will be the difference in the game.

FAU 26, Middle Tennessee 36 (7-5, 5-3 C-USA)

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the future of FAU. Partridge has taken the locker room by storm, multiple players are receiving national attention and the team has put together two of the best recruiting classes in Conference USA over the past two offseasons. It all sounds great in theory, but the Owls will have to prove that there is something behind all of this hype.

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @feeney42.