Football: Conference USA Championship Preview vs. North Texas

With a victory the Owls would win their first ever Conference USA championship.


FAU running back Devin Singletary (5) breaks a tackle by North Texas linebacker E.J. Ejiya (22). Alexander Rodriguez | Photo Editor

Matt Brown, Contributing Writer

After a 31-12 win over Charlotte to finish the regular season, FAU football has a rematch with Conference USA West Champion North Texas for each team’s first ever conference championship game appearance.

The Owls (9-3, 8-0 C-USA) finished conference play undefeated and are riding an eight-game win streak, a program high since joining the FBS. They are just the eighth team in Conference USA history to finish conference play undefeated and just the fourth team to finish it 8-0.

After a 69-31 loss to FAU back on Oct. 21, the Mean Green (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) finished the season on a five-game winning streak. With a victory, the team can finish with their best record since finishing 9-4 in 2013, their first season in Conference USA.

The Owls offense is coming off a 31-point game, their lowest during the eight-game win streak and lowest overall since their 34-31 loss to Buffalo on Sep. 23.

The Owls are averaging a conference best 39.8 points per game this season, and they have averaged over 46 points per game during this eight game winning streak. They scored a program high 69 points against North Texas the first time they met this year.

Sophomore running back Devin Singletary is coming off of his tenth straight game rushing for over 100 yards. He is fourth in the nation in rushing yards (1,632) and first in rushing touchdowns (26).

Singletary is averaging a conference-best 6.6 yards a carry and 136 rushing yards per game. He needs just four rushing touchdowns to break the Conference USA single season rushing touchdown record held by former UCF Knight and current FAU running back coach Kevin Smith set back in 2007.

“I don’t think about it too much,” Singletary said on Nov. 15 when asked about the record.

Singletary also recalled a time where Smith even jokingly told him that “he wouldn’t get it.”

Last week, redshirt junior quarterback Jason Driskel was 18-of-22 with two touchdowns and 245 yards, his second best of the season and best since throwing for 357 yards in the win against North Texas.

Quarterback Jason Driskel (16) scrambles out of the pocket against North Texas on Oct. 21. Joshua Giron | Contributing Photographer

Freshman wide receiver Willie Wright had nine catches for a touchdown and over 100 receiving yards against Charlotte for just the second time all season, and first since recording a season-high 141 receiving yards against North Texas.

The Owls defense allowed just 12 points last week, their lowest since shutting out Bethune Cookman in the team’s first win on Sept. 16.

They are ranked in the top three in the FBS with 18 interceptions for the season, but have not forced a turnover in the last three games.  

Junior safety Jalen Young is tied for first in the conference with five interceptions while sophomore cornerback Chris Tooley and junior cornerback Shelton Lewis are tied for second with four apiece.

“It’s going to be a good game. They are going to come and bring their best,” Young said of this week’s conference championship game. “We just have to prepare like we have been doing week to week. Our goal is to just be 1-0.”

Junior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair leads the conference in total tackles (123) and tackles per game (11.2).

The Mean Green offense is second in Conference USA, averaging 37.5 points per game. They have scored over 30 points in all but three of their games all season.

They are led by quarterback Mason Fine, who is coming off a game in which he threw a season high 72 percent completion percentage on 18-of-25 passing but just 195 passing yards, his second worst of the season.

Fine is averaging over 262 passing yards and two touchdowns in the team’s current five game winning streak.  He has not thrown an interception in just three games all season and has thrown at least one in the team’s three losses.

The Mean Green’s running back Jeffery Wilson is expected to be out for the second straight week with a right foot injury. Before the injury he led the team in rushing touchdowns (16) and rushing yards (1,215).

Their backup running back Nic Smith ran for a career high 178 yards on 26 attempts last week in his team’s win against Rice. He also had a career high 6.8 yards per carry.

In the Mean Green’s previous matchup against FAU, he was held to 3.1 yards per carry, his second lowest of the season.

A win for either team would mark their first ever Conference USA championship. The winner of this game gets their choice of six possible bowl games with Conference USA tie-ins while the loser will have to wait to be invited to one.

First year head coach Lane Kiffin doesn’t know too much about the bowl games that the Owls could be eligible to play in.

“I couldn’t even tell you what the six bowls are,” Kiffin said. “I don’t even know how it works at this level. The last few years I have been where they pick you and you’re in the top four, so you go into the playoff.”

The game kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 2 at noon at FAU Stadium.

Matt Brown is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @mattyb407.