Football: Five key matchups for the 2016 season

The team will travel through South Florida, playing at Miami and at Florida International.


Florida Atlantic Football players enter the field before the start of their game versus Buffalo. Mohammed F. Emran | Staff Photographer

With new faces, young talent and veteran leadership, Florida Atlantic football will be looking to improve on two consecutive 3-9 seasons.

Although the team saw a few glimpses of success throughout last season, FAU finished below or at .500 for the third year in a row and has not participated in a bowl game since its 24-21 Motor City Bowl win over Central Michigan in 2008.

As the season’s opening weekend draws closer, the Owls will play several teams that they are unfamiliar with, including Kansas State and Ball State, as well as their usual conference foes.

Here are the five key matchups that will define FAU’s season:


Week 1 vs. Southern Illinois: Season Opener

Last year the Owls began the season in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which ended in a 47-44 shootout loss in overtime. Although questions were raised about the defense, the offense, which relied on the running game, appeared to be highly potent.

Despite that initial burst in their first game, FAU’s offense only managed to average 17.5 points per game for the rest of the season, in part from a lack of consistency in the passing game. The Owls ranked 11th (out of 13 teams) in the conference in that category, with an 111.1 passing efficiency rating, a measure of the performance quarterbacks on a scale from −731.6 to 1261.6.

The Owls are 5-10 all time in season openers, and have won four of their past 10. However, FAU only managed to finish with a winning record in one of those seasons.

New offensive coordinator Travis Trickett’s offense will be on display for the first time in a regular season game, as well as a new starting quarterback who will be taking over for the post-Jaquez Johnson years.

Redshirt freshman Daniel Parr and redshirt sophomore Jason Driskel have been competing for the starting spot since the spring camp, but Driskell earned the first start versus Southern Illinois over Parr in the week before the game

“Both have good arms, they both are intelligent, they both bring things to the table that excite you about a quarterback,” head coach Charlie Partridge said.

The first game of the season will set the tone for the remainder of the season.


Week 2 at Miami: Visiting a Giant

For the second year in a row FAU and the University of Miami will meet, but this time the Owls will not have the privilege of being at home. Last year, Miami defeated FAU 44-20 in a game that drew 30,321 people, the largest crowd ever at FAU Stadium.

For the first half, the Owls hung in with the Hurricanes, trailing by only three points going into halftime, much to the delight of the home crowd. However, Miami was able to pull away in the second half.

This season, the game is set to be played in enemy territory for the Owls, meaning FAU will have to be as sharp as ever to upset the Hurricanes for the first time in the brief history of this matchup. Miami currently holds a 2-0 advantage, with the first win coming back in 2013.

Trickett, who comes from leading Samford University with 32.3 points per game, will most likely give the Hurricanes more problems offensively than last year, as Miami was one of the worst defensive units in the Atlantic Coast Conference, allowing 28.2 points per game.

It will be an interesting test for the Owls, as it will also be their first road game of the season. Its last visit to Miami ended in a 34-6 loss, so FAU will be looking to make it tough for the Hurricanes in their first home game of the season.


Week 5 at Florida International: The Shula Bowl — Conference USA Opener

Shula Bowl matchups between FAU and archrival Florida International are known for intensity and blowouts. Ten of the 14 meetings have ended in double-digit win margins for the victor. Last season’s rendition ended in a 31-17 Owls victory, their 10th win over FIU since 2002.

Despite the rivalry, both teams will also be looking to begin conference play on the right foot. The two South Florida teams finished 2015 with a 3-5 conference record, part of a three-way tie for fourth place alongside Old Dominion.

Last season, FAU got off to a great conference start when they defeated the Charlotte 49ers 17-7. However, the Owls went on to lose their next three conference games, and six of their last eight.

FIU ranked last in rushing yards and 11th in total offense, making them one of the worst offensive teams in the conference. The Panthers only averaged 109.9 yards per game on the ground, 3.4 per attempt, and had to rely on a fifth-ranked passing offense to stay afloat.

The Owls held the Panthers to a season-low 66 rushing yards in their 31-17 win last year and, with FAU’s improved defense, the team will try to frustrate FIU even more in this season’s lone matchup.


Week 8 vs. Western Kentucky: Facing the Defending Champions

One of the biggest in-conference tests FAU will have this season will come in its fourth conference game of the season.

FAU is currently 5-2 against Western Kentucky all time, winning two of its last three versus the Conference USA defending champions.

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers defeated the Owls 35-19 last season en route to an undefeated conference record, winning both the regular season Conference USA title and the championship game.

The Hilltoppers also finished the season ranked 24th in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

Western Kentucky will be without one of their best offensive playmakers in quarterback Brandon Doughty, who threw for 5,000 yards and almost 50 touchdowns during his time with the Hilltoppers.

It is to be seen whether or not the Hilltoppers can match or exceed the level of success they had last year, but one thing is for sure: FAU will have its hands full.


Week 12 at Middle Tennessee: Season Finale

By this time of year, where will the Owls be ranked in the standings? How much will FAU have improved from the previous year?

The season finale against Middle Tennessee can prove to be as worthless as their season finale last season if the Owls struggle to meet expectation. It could also turn out be really important.

The Blue Raiders were tied for second in the conference last season and defeated the Owls 24-17 in Boca Raton.

This game will be key for the Owls for several reasons: It may determine whether or not they can be eligible for a bowl game (teams need six wins to qualify for bowl eligibility). It could decide if they are packing their bags early and preparing for 2017, or whether they’re fighting for the top spot in the conference.

The Owls have not participated in a bowl game since 2008, when they defeated Central Michigan 24-21 in the Motor City Bowl.

FAU hasn’t won a conference championship in nine years, dating back to 2007 when it was still part of the Sun Belt Conference. That team was a joint winner alongside Troy University. The Owls have yet to win a Conference USA championship.

While every game will be important for the Owls, these five games will be key for different reasons.

Full Schedule


Sept. 3 – vs. Southern Illinois 6 p.m.

Sept. 10 – at Miami 6 p.m.

Sept. 17 – at Kansas State 2:30 p.m.

Sept. 24 – vs Ball State 6 p.m.

Oct. 1 – at Florida International 7 p.m.

Oct. 8 – vs. Charlotte 3:30 p.m.

Oct. 15 – at Marshall 7 p.m.

Oct. 29 – vs. Western Kentucky 3:30 p.m.

Nov. 5 – at Rice, Time: TBD

Nov. 12 – vs. UTEP 6 p.m.

Nov. 19 – vs. Old Dominion 6 p.m.

Nov. 26 – at Middle Tennessee 5:30 p.m.


Hans Belot Jr. is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him at @Don_Phenom_.