FAU football’s 2019 year in review

The Owls persevered the whole season en route to their second C-USA title in three years.

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FAU football’s 2019 year in review

Owls finished with a conference title, a bowl victory and 11 wins in 2019. Photo by: Alex Liscio.

Owls finished with a conference title, a bowl victory and 11 wins in 2019. Photo by: Alex Liscio.

Owls finished with a conference title, a bowl victory and 11 wins in 2019. Photo by: Alex Liscio.

Owls finished with a conference title, a bowl victory and 11 wins in 2019. Photo by: Alex Liscio.

Joseph Acosta, Contributing Writer

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The 2019 FAU Owls football team was trying to rebound from a season where they went 5-7 and missed a bowl game. FAU was also trying to replace the production of now-Buffalo Bill Devin Singletary and now-Pittsburgh Steeler Kerrith Whyte Jr. 

In the 2019 Preseason media poll, the Owls were picked to finish third in the East Division in the conference. Despite what the Owls lost to the draft and graduation, former head coach Lane Kiffin had a multitude of young talent, combined with stars such as tight end Harrison Bryant and linebacker Rashad Smith — so the Owls had high hopes for the season.

Over the course of four months, the FAU Owls put together one of their best and most interesting seasons in program history. To recap, here were some of the highlights:

  • FAU starts off the season 0-2 after two big losses
  • Record-setting performances highlight four-game win streak
  • Homecoming loss ends in fine for Kiffin
  • Five-game win streak to end the season sends FAU into the Conference title game
  • FAU dominates conference title game but loses Kiffin to Ole Miss
  • Convincing Boca Bowl victory over SMU sets the tone for offseason and new coach.
  • 17 Owls earn All-Conference USA honors
  • Harrison Bryant wins John Mackey Award and is named a unanimous AP All-American

Now here’s how they accomplished all that.

Traveling to Columbus in week one to face the then-number five Ohio State Buckeyes, then returning home to the UCF Golden Knights was not an easy way to start the season. FAU was the only team to play two AP Top 25 teams in the first two weeks. The Owls gave up a combined total of 549 rushing yards in two losses and looked outclassed while they were trying to solidify themselves as one of the best Group of Five teams in the nation. 

FAU rattled off four straight wins after Kiffin said in a teleconference that the season was a “restart” after the opening losses. QB Chris Robison was stellar against Ball State, throwing for 366 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to wideout John Mitchell. Mitchell at that point in the season was only the second wideout in school history with three touchdown grabs. The next game against Wagner, DeAngelo Antione set a new school record by catching four touchdown passes, and Chris Robison tied former FAU QB Rusty Smith’s school record for touchdown passes in a single game with four. Against Charlotte and Middle Tennessee, senior DB Meiko Dotson intercepted four passes in two great defensive performances.

Homecoming night, the Owls were slated to go against the Marshall Thundering Herd in a game where both teams were tied for first in the division at the time. The Owls were paced by Robison’s 362 passing yards, Leroy’s ten tackles and an interception. Yet it was a late Marshall touchdown that would give the Thundering Herd the victory, snapping FAU’s four-game winning streak. Despite the game being a classic, and having standout performances on both sides, it was Kiffin and the Conference USA referees that took center stage postgame. Kiffin felt that there were multiple missed calls and after the game posted a meme in criticism of the referees. This got him a $5,000 fine from C-USA. 

The Owls never wavered after the Marshall game, and their season continued to roll. The Owls won every game in the rest of the regular season by double digits, including a massive 37-7 victory over rival FIU in the Shula Bowl. The offense came alive in the last five games, including senior Tight end Harrison Bryant. The Owls did what they needed to do to keep their Conference USA hopes alive, and with Charlotte beating Marshall, the Owls controlled their destiny in the conference. Facing Southern Miss at home in the regular-season finale, the Owls needed a win to get to the conference title game. FAU took care of business and punched their ticket to host the title game, winning 34-17. 

The Owls went into postseason play carrying a lot of hardware with them. Harrison Bryant was named the 2019 John Mackey Award winner for the best tight end in college football, and was a unanimous AP All-American. In total, 17 Owls made all-Conference USA, with Robison, Bryant, OLs Junior Diaz and Brandon Walton and DB Meiko Dotson making Conference-USA First Team. 

The Owls were hosting a very strong UAB team for the Conference USA title game, and this game presented them with an opportunity to solidify themselves as one of the best Group of Five teams this season. FAU came out the gate hot and never looked back, routing the Blazers 49-6 en route to their second Conference USA title in three years. Chris Robison threw four touchdown passes and was named MVP of the game. However, it left Owl fans with a bittersweet moment, as it was announced after the game that Lane Kiffin was leaving FAU to be the head coach at Ole Miss.

Before celebrating those who made the teams, however, the Owls had to finish strong. 

By going 10-3 and winning C-USA, the Owls were selected to face SMU in the Boca Raton Bowl, a fitting close to the rollercoaster of a season. Missing Lane Kiffin as well as a host of assistant coaches that went to Ole Miss with Kiffin, the Owls were coming in shorthanded. In addition, Leroy and Antione were missing the game due to academic suspensions. The Owls routed SMU, 54-28, in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl. Robison again was fantastic, throwing for 305 passing yards and two touchdowns in what was also the finale for coordinators Glenn Spencer and Charlie Weis Jr.

The FAU Owls 2019 season was one of ups and downs, just like every good rollercoaster. The Owls fought and persevered all season, and go into 2020 with high hopes under new head coach Willie Taggart.

Joseph Acosta is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @acosta32_jp.