Staff predictions: FAU takes on SMU in Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl

FAU is currently 3-0 in bowl games.

The+Owls+will+try+to+stay+undefeated+in+bowl+games+against+SMU+today.+Photo+by%3A+Alex+Liscio.

The Owls will try to stay undefeated in bowl games against SMU today. Photo by: Alex Liscio.

University Press Sports Staff

After winning the Conference USA championship on Dec. 12 against UAB (10-3), FAU’s next and final test of the season is against the Southern Methodist University Mustangs (10-2) in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl. 

While Willie Taggart was hired as the new head coach for FAU, he won’t coach in the bowl game. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will fill in as interim head coach for Saturday’s game. 

As reported by FAU Owl Access, LB Akileis Leroy and WRs Deangelo Antoine and Pico Harrison will not play due to academic suspensions. RBs Malcolm Davidson and Tyrek Tisdale are also not expected to play and TE Harrison Bryant is battling an illness so his status is also questionable. 

Here are the Bowl predictions from the University Press sports staff: 

Zachary Weinberger I Sports Editor

We could be in for a shootout in Boca Raton Saturday. FAU was No.1 in Conference USA in scoring offense with 35.2 points per game. Going into this game, SMU is one of the best offenses in the country, averaging 43 points per game.

So while both teams are known for their offenses, defense will be the key to this game for the Owls. What Spencer and company have done to the defense this season has been nothing short of terrific. FAU is ranked first in the nation in turnover margin and interceptions, and showed their dominance in the C-USA championship holding the Blazers to only six points. 

However, SMU’s skill position players on offense have been otherworldly this season. QB Shane Buechele has thrown for 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions, RB Xavier Jones has rushed for 1,249 yards and 21 touchdowns and WR James Proche has 102 receptions for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns. 

Even though FAU is undefeated in bowl games so far, I’m not sure if the defense can stop the surging Mustangs and if the offense can keep up, especially if star tight end Harrison Bryant doesn’t play to prepare for the NFL Draft. With all the inactives of key players on both sides of the ball, it’ll be a rough mountain to climb for the Owls.

PREDICTION: SMU 37, FAU 23

Joseph Acosta I Contributing Writer 

Points, points, and more points. FAU and SMU both come into this contest ranked among the top 25 scoring offenses in the nation, but SMU is ranked higher than FAU in points per game, and for good reason.

SMU is ranked 24th in the nation in offensive efficiency and 27th in yards per play, according to ESPN. Their lead by former Texas QB Shane Buchele and star wideout James Proche, who is second in the NCAA with 102 catches in the season. 

With the departure of Lane Kiffin from the Owls, some might question where are the Owls’ heads are at come gametime. However, I think coach Spencer will have this team ready and excited to play — especially the defense — which leads the NCAA in turnover margin and is led by First-Team Conference USA DB and resident ballhawk Meiko Dotson. But with the absence of Bryant, Antione, Harrison, and Akileis Leroy on the defensive side, this game could turn ugly quick.

PREDICTION: SMU 42, FAU 28

Jensen Jennings I Contributing Writer 

For the second time in three years, FAU will be finishing their season in the Boca Bowl. This game will not be like the 2017 50-3 blowout of Toledo. SMU finished the season 10-2 and were ranked as high as 15 in the AP Poll during the season.

This will be a tough test for the Owls defensively, as SMU is averaging the ninth most yards per game in the country (495.3) and have the sixth-best scoring offense (43 points per game) in the country. The Owls have been stout on defense since their win over Ball State, but they have faced just one opponent with a top 50 offense, the Charlotte 49ers, who are 50th in total yards (425.8) and 45th in scoring offense (31.6 points per game).

I think the Owls will be able to keep things close for awhile, but it will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss Jr. handles installing the game plan and the play calling with former head coach Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. FAU will keep it close, but the SMU offense will be too much for the Owls to overcome.

PREDICTION: SMU 45, FAU 30

John DeStefano I Contributing Writer

With the Lane Train now long gone at Oxford, Mississippi, this current group of Owls will look to use this bowl game as a springboard to next season under newly signed head coach Willie Taggart. But the final game of the season is also big for SMU. FAU comes in with plenty to prove — but make no mistake, SMU is the nation’s best unranked team.

The Mustang offense brings with it plenty of firepower. Senior WR James Proche looks to cap off an unbelievable season where he currently stands second in the nation in receptions. He’s one behind NCAA leader Devin Duvernay from the University of Texas, who has 103 and tied for third in touchdown catches with 14. Junior QB Shane Buechele trusts him to go up and make plays. But don’t underestimate the rest of the SMU receiving corps, because they all contribute. 

Even as passing has taken over most college schemes, all great offenses have still maintain some form of balance on the ground. SMU junior RB Xavier Jones, perhaps the country’s most underrated back, provides that with some of the slickest moves around. His 21 rushing touchdowns tie him for second in all of college football and he has left more than a few defenders in the dust with true top end speed. Owl defenders will have their hands full all day with SMU head coach Sonny Dykes’ air-raid offense, which runs a similar tempo to the UCF offense that crushed FAU 48-14 earlier this season.

For the Owls, sophomore QB Chris Robison will need to be more decisive and accurate than he has been of late, with under 50 percent passing for two straight games. FAU is short on receivers following the news of WR Tavaris Harrison’s academic suspension and Mackey Award-winning TE Harrison Bryant’s decision to sit out the game in order to prepare for the NFL draft, so expect to see a healthy dose of running backs BJ Emmons and James Charles.

On defense, the Owls continue to shock and amaze with the nation’s best turnover margin (+20) and they will need to win the turnover battle in this fray to steal a few extra possessions. FAU will need another big game from turnover machine Rashad Smith, who is playing in his final game in red and blue. The Southern Methodist offense has been held under 29 points exactly once this season and it’s near impossible to expect the FAU defense to keep that much talent at bay for the entire 60 minutes.

PREDICTION: SMU 45, FAU 14

Kevin Fielder I Contributing Writer 

SMU scores, a lot. This season, the SMU offense scored 43 points per game this season, including a 59-51 victory over East Carolina near the end of the season. SMU’s offense is able to beat opponents both through the air and on the ground, presenting problems for any defense.

The story of the FAU season, however, has been their ability to stifle opposing offenses and force turnovers. The FAU defense leads the nation in turnovers, which is headlined by Meiko Dotson. FAU’s ability to employ multiple defensive fronts and create timely turnovers cause a matchup nightmare but SMU is capable of destroying that matchup with their electric offense.

With the suspensions FAU has on offense, the situation becomes different. Without Pico Harrison and DeAngelo Antoine out for the game, the Owls will turn to backups Brandon Robinson, Willie Wright, among others to shoulder responsibilities in the receiving game. Thus, Chris Robison might need to have a career game, and practically carry the Owls to a victory. 

If you’re a fan who enjoys defense, this may not be the game for you. Both teams can score in droves and both teams likely will. If you like a lot of points, buckle up.

PREDICTION: SMU 45, FAU 35

Trey Avant I Contributing Writer

The Owls will be short handed for the bowl game as receivers DeAngelo Antoine and Pico Harrison and linebacker Akileis LeRoy were placed on academic suspension. Tight end Harrison Bryant and running backs Malcolm Davidson and Tyrek Tisdale are also not expected to play due to physical ailments.

FAU has the highest-scoring team in the Conference USA at 35.2 points per game — and a big reason for that is quarterback Chris Robison. Robison comes in with 3,396 yards passing and 26 touchdowns. Robison has had a deep corps of skill players around him the entire season but he will be facing an uphill battle on Saturday without his top three pass catchers and leading rusher. 

SMU on the other hand ranks in the top 10 nationally in both scoring and total offense. Quarterback Shane Buechele has recorded 33 touchdown passes this season which is good for sixth nationally while throwing for 3,626 yards. SMU also boasts a lethal arsenal of weapons as they have a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in Xavier Jones and James Proche, respectively. 

The Owls possess an opportunistic defense that leads the nation in takeaways but the Mustangs don’t commit many mistakes for the Owls to capitalize on. With the departure of Lane Kiffin and the unfortunate unavailability of some of key contributors, I believe SMU will take advantage of FAU’s uncertainty and win their first bowl game since 2012.

PREDICTION: SMU 41, FAU 17

For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet the staff: Zachary Weinberger (@ZachWeinberger), Joseph Acosta (@acosta32_jp), Jensen Jennings (@Jensen_Jennings), John DeStefano (@Johns_voice), Kevin Fielder (@TheKevinFielder) and Trey Avant (@TreyAvant3).