UNIVERSITY PRESS

How does FAU stack up to its 2018 competition?

What to look out for in each week of the Owls’ football season.

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How does FAU stack up to its 2018 competition?

FAU's chase to repeat last season's dominance begins Sept. 1 at Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations

FAU's chase to repeat last season's dominance begins Sept. 1 at Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations

FAU's chase to repeat last season's dominance begins Sept. 1 at Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations

FAU's chase to repeat last season's dominance begins Sept. 1 at Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations

Wajih AlBaroudi, Sports Editor

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Hype is as at an all-time high for FAU football.

That added attention skyrocketed expectations as well.

How FAU responds to difficult matchups this season ranging from a reigning college football playoff team in Oklahoma, to a UCF squad coming off an undefeated season, will either solidify or discard its spot in the limelight.

Week One

Opponent: Oklahoma

When: Sept. 1 at noon on FOX

Where: Gaylord Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma.

Head-to-Head Record: N/A

Breakdown: FAU plays its toughest game of the schedule on opening day, when it faces off against the defending Big 12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners. Although Oklahoma is without Heisman trophy winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, its offense still boasts enormous talent across the board.

Replacing Mayfield is former five-star high school recruit and Texas A&M transfer, Kyler Murray. The redshirt-junior struggled in his short stint as a freshman starter in College Station, but is a an electrifying athlete that can dismantle defenses with both his arm and his legs.

This game figures to be a shootout, as coach Lincoln Riley’s offense was as good as any unit in the country last season, his defense was quite the opposite. Last season Oklahoma ranked a dreadful 87th nationally in passing yards allowed, and No. 67 in total defense.

Offensive Player to Watch: Running back Rodney Anderson

Defensive Player to Watch: Safety Brendan Radley-Hiles

Major Offensive Loss: Left tackle Orlando Brown

Major Defensive Loss: Defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Matchup to Watch: FAU’s cornerbacks versus Oklahoma wide receivers CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown. The pair of explosive Sooners wideouts combined for 1,722 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, earning them each a spot on the 2018 Biletnikoff Award watch list — given to the nation’s best pass catcher.

Week Two

Opponent: Air Force

When: Sept. 8 at 2 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: N/A

Breakdown: It will be deja vu for Owls fans attending FAU’s 2018 home opener.    

Like last season’s week one matchup with Navy, the Owls once again open their season against an option-heavy military school in Air Force.

Quarterback Arion Worthman carries the Falcons’ offense; the junior accounted for 23 of his team’s 38 touchdowns last season, and was their leading rusher with 821 yards on the ground.

Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun is more than committed to the run game, as his team passed the ball on only 17.7 percent of its offensive plays last season — third to last in FBS.

Air Force retains about half of its defensive starters, but that may not be a good thing. The Falcons defense was abysmal last season — only 28 teams in the country finishing worse than them in scoring defense (32.4).

Devin Singletary has a chance to run all over an Air Force defense that gave up an FBS worst 5.93 yards per carry last season.

Offensive Player to Watch: Wide receiver Ronald Cleveland

Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker Kyle Floyd

Major Offensive Loss: Running back Tim McVey

Major Defensive Loss: Defensive back Marquis Griffin

Matchup to Watch: The FAU defensive front versus an Air Force rushing offense that was fourth best in the country last season (307.4 yards per game).

Week Three

Opponent: Bethune-Cookman

When: Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. on STADIUM

Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: 3-1

Breakdown: Bethune-Cookman returns to Boca Raton for a second straight season, as the Owls blasted the Wildcats 45-0 in the 2017 matchup — Kiffin’s first victory as head coach of FAU.

It is a period of transition for the Wildcats offense, as their starting quarterback and two leading rushers from a season ago have exhausted eligibility.

The Wildcats simply don’t have the depth to keep up with a much deeper FAU roster. As an FCS team, Bethune-Cookman is granted 63 full scholarships, compared to FBS teams like FAU that are allowed 85. The Owls are 6-0 all time against FCS teams, and look to make it a seventh straight this season.

Offensive Player to Watch: Wide receiver Keavon Mitchell

Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker Marquis Hendrix

Major Offensive Loss: Quarterback Larry Brihm Jr.

Major Defensive Loss: Defensive back Diquan Richardson

Matchup to Watch: The FAU ground game versus an overmatched Bethune-Cookman front seven. Devin Singletary and the Owls’ backfield picked up a whopping 439 rushing yards in last season’s matchup, nearly quadruple the Wildcat’s 117 total offensive yards.

FAU’s defense punished Bethune-Cookman last season, shutting the Wildcats out and holding them to less than 150 yards. Photo courtesy of Ralph Notaro

Week Four

Opponent: Central Florida

When: Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. on ESPN

Where: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: 0-1

Breakdown: UCF had a magical undefeated run in 2017-18, but the team will have to adjust without coach Scott Frost and 2016 AAC defensive player of the year Shaquem Griffin.

Josh Heupel takes over as the new Knights head coach, the former NFL quarterback served as Missouri’s offensive coordinator a season ago. He is paired with returning UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton, who tossed 35 touchdowns in his sophomore season tied for fourth in the NCAA.

A UCF defense stocked with NFL talent a season ago faces turnover on all three levels of the field in 2018. The losses of defensive linemen Jamiyus Pittman and Tony Guerad, the aforementioned Griffin at linebacker, and cornerback Mike Hughes, has a chance to severely hinder the Knights’ defensive success.

Offensive Player to Watch: Running back Adrian Killins

Defensive Player to Watch: Safety Kyle Gibson

Major Offensive Loss: Wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith

Major Defensive Loss: Linebacker Shaquem Griffin

Matchup to Watch: FAU defensive ends versus the Knights’ offensive tackles. The Owls need to generate consistent pressure off the edge to get the explosive Milton-led air attack out of its rhythm.

Week Five

Opponent: Middle Tennessee

When:Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. on STADIUM

Where: Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Head-to-Head Record: 4-11

Breakdown: Middle Tennessee is one of C-USA’s most underrated teams heading into this season. The Blue Raiders retain most of their playmakers both offensively and defensively, and ended last season winning four of its last five games including a victory over Arkansas State in the Cramton Bowl.

Blue Raiders starting quarterback Brent Stockstill should be ready to return this fall after missing time with an injury last season. Stockstill’s offense faltered in his absence — backup John Urzua throwing more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7) on the year.

Then first-year defensive coordinator Scott Shafer implemented an aggressive mentality in getting after the quarterback, his team tying for second in sacks last season among C-USA teams with 32 behind only FAU’s 38.

Middle Tennessee had C-USA’s third best run defense last season (134.1 yards per game), making FAU more likely to air out the football in this contest.

Offensive Player to Watch: Wide receiver/running back Ty Lee

Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker Khalil Brooks

Major Offensive Loss: Wide receiver Richie James

Major Defensive Loss: Linebacker DJ Sanders

Matchup to Watch: The FAU passing game versus a Middle Tennessee pass defense that ranked in the bottom five of C-USA last season. Middle Tennessee’s solid run defense juxtaposed with its pedestrian secondary makes the Owls’ winning formula clear: attack the Blue Raiders through the air.

Week Six

Opponent: Old Dominion

When: Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. on STADIUM

Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: 2-2

Breakdown: Old Dominion took a huge step back after a strong Bahamas Bowl winning campaign in 2016-17, finishing with a disappointing 5-7 record last season.

Most of Old Dominion’s struggles stemmed from its inability to pass the ball, and with few changes expected among the skill positions, development from within is head coach Bobby Wilder’s only hope for improvement offensively. Steven Williams is back as the Monarchs’ signal caller after an up-and-down freshman season. The 6-foot-4 passer threw nearly double the amount of picks (11) than he did touchdowns (six) a season ago, his 0.55 touchdown to interception ratio being the worst among 13 qualifying C-USA quarterbacks.

A mistake prone offense like Old Dominion’s is a matchup made in heaven for the opportunistic FAU defense. The Owls hope to bring the same defensive intensity they played with in the matchup last season, where they picked off four of Williams’ passes in a crushing 58-28 victory.

Offensive Player to Watch: Running back Jeremy Cox

Defensive Player to Watch: Defensive end Oshane Ximines

Major Offensive Loss: Running back Ray Lawry

Major Defensive Loss: Defensive end Bunmi Rotimi

Matchup to Watch: FAU defensive tackles versus the interior of Old Dominion’s offensive line. The Owls needs production from their defensive tackles to slow down the Old Dominion run game on early downs, to force third and longs on a sporadic Monarchs passing attack that is uncomfortable launching the ball down field.

Shelton Lewis (No. 3) hauled in one of FAU’s four interceptions against Old Dominion last season. Photo courtesy of Ralph Notaro

Week Seven

Opponent: Marshall

When: Oct. 20 at 2:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

Where: Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, West Virgina

Head-to-Head Record: 1-4

Breakdown: Marshall played FAU tougher than any team in the conference last season — losing by just five points on the road and will have an opportunity to finish the job on its home turf in 2018.

The Thundering Herd offense will be without quarterback Chase Litton, who signed with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and will likely lean on Wagner graduate transfer Alex Thomson in his absence.

FAU needs to bring extra attention to Marshall tight end Ryan Yurachek in the red zone. 15.8 percent of Yurachecks receptions accounted for touchdowns last season, No. 1 in C-USA among players with at least 30 catches.

Marshall’s strength is its defense, and it returns most of its starters going into the 2018 season. Linebacker Chase Hancock was the catalyst to a Marshall run defense that was C-USA’s best a season ago (3.4 yards per carry against).

Offensive Player to Watch: Wide receiver Tyre Brady

Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker Chase Hancock

Major Offensive Loss: Quarterback Chase Litton

Major Defensive Loss: Safety CJ Reavis

Matchup to Watch: FAU offensive line versus the aforementioned Hancock. FAU has to secure double teams quickly at the point of attack, so they can get blocks on the agile linebacker and negate his ability to change the game as a run defender.

Week Eight

Opponent: Louisiana Tech

When: Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: 1-0

Breakdown: Head coach Skip Holtz’s Louisiana Tech Bulldogs have proven to be one of C-USA’s most consistent teams recently — winning bowl games each of the past four seasons — and will aiming for an upset against a favored Owls team in their first ever road trip to Boca Raton in 2018.

Dual-threat quarterback J’Mar Smith is under center for the Bulldogs; the speedy signal caller tossed just 13 touchdowns in 12 games last season, but did a great job protecting the football — his five interceptions tied for third least among C-USA starters.

Louisiana Tech’s defensive forte is forcing turnovers: its 16 interceptions from a season ago was second best in the conference. Amik Robertson was a huge factor of that success, tying for fourth in the conference with four interceptions of his own as a freshman in 2017.

Offensive Player to Watch: Wide receiver Teddy Veal

Defensive Player to Watch: Defensive end Jaylon Ferguson

Major Offensive Loss: Running back Boston Scott

Major Defensive Loss: Safety Secdrick Cooper

Matchup to Watch: FAU quarterbacks versus the Louisiana Tech secondary. Kiffin’s team has to protect the football close against a ballhawking Louisiana Tech defense looking to take advantage of its opponents inexperience under center.

Week Nine

Opponent: Florida International

When: Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. on STADIUM

Where: Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: 12-4

Breakdown: Butch Davis versus Lane Kiffin part two will take place in Miami after Kiffin’s Owls won the Shula Bowl handily in Boca Raton last season.

An already middle-of-the-pack FIU offense has been depleted with the departures of starting quarterback Alex McGough, leading rusher Anthony Gardner, and leading receiver Thomas Owens.

Despite having a productive defensive line, FIU was still abused through the air last season, giving up a C-USA high 24 passing touchdowns. FIU had a porous pass defense in 2017 and it looks even weaker heading into this season, as it loses cornerback Brad Muhammad, who led his team with four interceptions last season.

Offensive Player to Watch: Running back Shawndarrius Phillips

Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker Fermin Silva

Major Offensive Loss: Quarterback Alex McGough

Major Defensive Loss: Linebacker Anthony Wint

Matchup to Watch: FAU’s defense versus FIU in the red zone. Davis’ offense led the nation in red zone score percentage last season at 97.6 percent, and will look to carry over that success with new offensive personnel in 2018.

FAU outscored FIU by 17 in the second half of last season’s 52-24 victory. Photo courtesy of Ralph Notaro

Week 10

Opponent: Western Kentucky

When: Nov. 10 at 5 p.m. on STADIUM

Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: 6-3

Breakdown: After having C-USA’s leading passer (4,177 yards) under center last season in Mike White, The Hilltoppers now enter foreign territory heading into 2018: having question marks at the quarterback position. Steven Duncan, Drew Eckels, and incoming freshman Kevaris Thomas are expected to compete for the job.

To say the Western Kentucky offense was one dimensional last season would be putting it lightly. The Hilltoppers ranked seventh in the nation in passing (4,355 yards), and last in rushing (791 yards).

The Hilltoppers will be without star linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe, who opted to enter the 2018 NFL draft instead of returning for his senior season. His absence is a crushing blow to the WKU defense; the now Chicago Bear was C-USA’s fourth leading tackler from a season ago (117).

Offensive Player to Watch: Wide receiver Lucky Jackson

Defensive Player to Watch: Defensive back Devon Key

Major Offensive Loss: Quarterback Mike White

Major Defensive Loss: Linebacker Joel Iyeguibiew

Matchup to Watch: FAU’s run defense versus running back D’andre Ferby. With White’s departure at quarterback, the Owls can hone in even further on a deficient Western Kentucky rushing attack. Ferby showed little to no burst on his offensive touches last season, gaining just 3.2 yards per carry — second to last among C-USA players with at least 100 attempts.

Week 11

Opponent: North Texas

When: Nov. 15 at 9:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network

Where: Apogee Stadium, Denton, Texas

Head-to-Head Record: 8-4

Breakdown: The Mean Green will be eager to make up for a pair of disastrous showings against FAU last season where they were outscored by a total of 62 points.

The 2017 C-USA runner-ups boast a high-powered passing offense led by quarterback Mason Fine. Fine was the most prolific passer in the conference last season, passing for 31 touchdowns five more than any other player in C-USA.

North Texas balances its potent air attack with a strong running game spearheaded by sophomore Nic Smith.

Defensively, the Mean Green aren’t nearly as proficient as their offensive counterparts. The Mean Green had C-USA’s third worst scoring defense (35.0) from a season ago, and were the fourth worst in yards allowed per game (426.7).

Offensive Player to Watch: Wide receiver Jalen Guyton

Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker E.J. Ejiya

Major Offensive Loss: Running back Jeffrey Wilson

Major Defensive Loss: Safety Kishawn McClain

Matchup to Watch: The FAU secondary versus North Texas’ skilled wideouts. Guyton and Michael Lawrence comprise one of the most formidable receiving tandems in the Group of Five; the Owls must keep them at bay to force Fine into delivering the ball to players he isn’t as comfortable with.

Week 12

Opponent: Charlotte

When: Nov. 24 at 6 p.m. on STADIUM

Where: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida

Head-to-Head Record: 2-1

Breakdown: Charlotte won only one game a season ago and has all the makings of a team set to struggle once again in 2018.

The 49ers owned C-USA’s second worst scoring offense (14.2), and the conference’s worst total yardage defense (454.6) of 2017.

The Owls will need to keep quarterback Hasaan Klugh in the pocket as much as possible, as he is always a threat to take off with the football as a runner. He led C-USA in rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks last season, with nine of his 19 total touchdowns coming on the ground.

Offensive Player to Watch: Quarterback Hasaan Klugh

Defensive Player to Watch: Linebacker Jeff Gemmell

Major Offensive Loss: Offensive lineman Wolfgang Zacherl

Major Defensive Loss: Linebacker Karrington King

Matchup to Watch: FAU skill players versus Charlotte safety Ben DeLuca. Ball carriers need to grip the pigskin tighter when running near DeLuca, as the junior has a knack for punching the ball out, leading C-USA with five forced fumbles last season.

Wajih AlBaroudi is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet @WajihAlBaroudi.

About the Writer
Wajih AlBaroudi, Sports Editor

Wajih is a multimedia journalism major who’s previously worked as a contributing writer. He currently covers FAU sports for the UP and FAU Owl Access....

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