Regardless of how many games Florida Atlantic wins this season all eyes will be on the Owls with Lane Kiffin as head coach. Kiffin has made his return a family affair while also bringing in an offensive coordinator who is no stranger to controversy himself. Even though FAU has gone 3-9 each of the past three seasons, don’t be surprised if Kiffin surpasses that in his debut as he has 14 starters returning and a talented quarterback who is finally ready to make more news on the field rather than off of it. Can Kiffin turn the Owls into a bowl-eligible team right away? That remains to be seen, but this much is certain – Kiffin has already made FAU a must-watch team in 2017.
Previewing FAU Football’s Offense for 2017
In December, following three consecutive 3–9 seasons, FAU thrust itself into college football relevance by hiring former Alabama offensive coordinator — and national curiosity — Lane Kiffin to be the program’s fifth head coach. One day after introducing Kiffin, FAU signed East Mississippi Community College quarterback De’Andre Johnson, formerly at Florida State. The Seminoles dismissed Johnson, Florida’s 2014 “Mr. Football,” in 2015 after video surfaced of him allegedly punching a girl at a Tallahassee bar. Kiffin then hired offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who departed Baylor under the haze of the Bears’ sexual abuse scandal.
Despite being one of football’s top offensive minds, Kiffin won’t be calling the plays for FAU this season. He’ll leave those duties to Briles, who will run the jet-fueled Baylor offense with some of Kiffin’s scheme mixed in.
The Briles, Kiffin and Johnson combo should make the Owls offense more dynamic than the one that ranked No. 72 in total offense last season.
The trio will rely on a strong ground attack already in place before they arrived. In senior Buddy Howell and sophomore Devin Singletary, the Owls return a duo that combined to rush for 1,849 yards behind an offensive line decimated by injuries. Nearly all of Singletary’s 1,021 yards came in the final half of the season.
The athleticism of the wide receiving unit surprised Kiffin. Kalib Woods nabbed 68 catches for 934 yards and could be primed for a breakout season. However, he was suspended over the summer due to an off-field incident and his status for 2017 is up in the air.
Previewing FAU Football’s Defense for 2017
Kiffin hired his brother, Chris Kiffin, away from Ole Miss to run the defense, then completed the family affair by bringing his father Monte Kiffin, of Tampa 2 fame, to Boca Raton as a consultant.
The Kiffins intended to play a base 4-3 defense, but a shortage of linebackers during the spring forced them to employ a nickel base. With all the spread offenses FAU faces in Conference USA, having the extra defensive back on the field may prove the wise choice, regardless of health.
Whichever defensive scheme the Kiffins settle on, the Owls will have to tackle significantly better than in 2016, when they surrendered 513.8 yards and 39.8 points per game.
FAU lost the program’s career sack leader in Trey Hendrickson to the NFL. Junior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, a former Freshman All-American, sat out spring drills following shoulder surgery but should emerge as the defensive leader. Al-Shaair recorded a combined 207 tackles over his first two seasons.
Junior safety Jalen Young brings back his 100 tackles. If cornerback Raekwon Williams improves his ball skills, he’ll be one of the best cover corners in C-USA.
Previewing FAU Football’s Specialists for 2017
FAU boasts a potent kickoff return duo in Singletary and Kerrith Whyte. Whyte’s 1,002 kickoff return yards last season were fourth most nationally. Entering the program’s 17th season, FAU has never returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Ryan Rickel assumes punting duties now that Dalton Schomp, who led the NCAA in 2015, has graduated. Senior Greg Joseph is 42-of-61 on field goal attempts in his career.
FAU has athletes on offense, and with Lane Kiffin and Briles guiding that side of the ball, the Owls are almost certain to score more points. Under the guidance of Chris and Monte Kiffin, the defense can’t help but improve, right? After the Owls lost four games by less than a touchdown last season, it doesn’t take much imagination to envision FAU as a bowl-eligible team, as long as the new coaches, transfers and returning players mesh quickly.
National Ranking: 98
C-USA East Prediction: 4
(Devin Singletary photo courtesy of Getty Images)