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Conference USA Championship Game Preview and Prediction: North Texas vs. Florida Atlantic


Time to cash in big if you predicted before the season that North Texas and Florida Atlantic would meet in the Conference USA Championship Game in 2017.

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The Mean Green (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) overcame a 1-2 start to begin the season and won eight out of their last nine games; a four-game improvement over last year. Second-year head coach Seth Littrell has done a masterful job in his short stint at North Texas, drastically improving an offense that ranked dead last in C-USA prior to him landing the gig. North Texas finished the 2017 season ranked second in the conference in scoring offense, averaging nearly 38 points per game.

The improvements made by Florida Atlantic (9-3, 8-0) in 2017 have been much more publicized thanks to first-year head coach Lane Kiffin who is never shy about being in the limelight. Don’t let that fool you though — this team has taken equally impressive strides this season including leading the conference in scoring and rushing offense.

Safe to say we should expect the scoreboard to light up early and often on Saturday.

Conference USA Championship: North Texas at Florida Atlantic

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Florida Atlantic -10.5

Three Things to Watch

1. No lost step
No Jeffery Wilson, no problem for North Texas. The senior running back was likely lost for the season after suffering a foot injury the week prior against Army, and will go down as one of the better running backs in North Texas history with more than 3,200 rushing yards in his career. Wilson finished the 2017 season with 1,215 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Filling in for Wilson last week in the win over Rice was redshirt freshman Nic Smith, who wound up running for 178 yards with a score and averaged close to seven yards a carry in his first career start. With Wilson’s season and collegiate career likely over, it will be Smith’s show the rest of the way.

2. You left the Motor running

Most of the country is likely not familiar with Devin "Motor" Singletary but be prepared to get know him on Saturday. After just six carries for 26 yards in the opener against Navy, Singletary went on an absolute tear the rest of the way. The sophomore running back finished the regular season with 26 rushing touchdowns, including at least one in every game but the opener. Singletary also had 10 games in which he scored multiple times, including a five-game stretch in which he had 16 TDs. After just 68 yards against Wisconsin in Week 2, Singletary would post triple digits the rest of the way, recording 10 straight 100-yard games. If those are not Heisman-worthy numbers, I don’t know what is.

3. We meet again

It was not pretty for North Texas the last time these two teams met in late October. Florida Atlantic rolled up a Conference USA-record 804 total yards in the 69-31 win, including three rushing touchdowns from Singletary. It wasn’t all Singletary that day either, as four other Owls scored that way, giving the team nearly 450 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground alone. Saturday will actually mark a first for FAU head coach Lane Kiffin as this will be the first time during his collegiate career that he will face a team twice during a season. “I have not experienced that,” Kiffin said this week to reporters regarding a rematch. “What can you say? It’s always hard. I don’t know if it’s harder or easier. I think you’ve just got to erase it period, and pretend you never played them before.”

Final Analysis

With both offenses on a roll heading into Saturday, it will come down to which defense comes up with more stops down the stretch. These teams finished ninth and 10th in the conference in terms of total defense so there's very little edge there in that respect. With small differences statistically between the two, give me the team with the best player and the one who is playing at home. Advantage Florida Atlantic.

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Prediction: Florida Atlantic 45, North Texas 31

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.