Owls flying high after successful 2017

August 30, 2018 ▪ By Ray Dozier

The Florida Atlantic Owls will roll into Norman Saturday (11 a.m. FOX) with a lot of confidence. The Owls finished 2017 with a 10-game winning streak, the Conference USA title, and a blowout bowl victory (50-3 over Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl).

Lane Kiffin took over as head coach at FAU last season and led the Owls to an 11-3 mark. But let’s put the record into perspective. FAU went 10-1 against non-Power 5 teams. The lone loss was a 34-31 setback to Buffalo. The Owls rolled up 44.6 points and 534 yards per game against those non-powers.

They were able to put up an average of 16.5 points against the two Power 5 squads (Navy and Wisconsin), and just 287 yards per game.

Okay, that was last year, but Florida Atlantic isn’t near the caliber of Oklahoma. Still, look for Kiffin to pull out all the stops to ruin the Sooners’ season right out of the gate.

OU’s defense must stop the Owls’ best offensive weapon—junior running back Devin Singletary, who rushed for 1,920 yards and scored 32 TDs. Singletary is the preseason pick to win Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year honor.

Junior De’Andre Johnson is a transfer from Florida State. He appears to have the advantage as starting quarterback over Chris Robison, a redshirt freshman transfer from OU. Johnson played only one series last year in mop-up duty, and suffered blot clots in one arm and missed the rest of the season. Robison has yet to step onto a collegiate gridiron. Although losing two stars on the front line, senior Reggie Bain returns and some say he might be the best left tackle in C-USA.

Two of the three top receivers last year are back. Sophomore Willie Wright led the Owls with 56 catches for 657 yards and 6 TDs. Junior tight end Harrison Bryant was third with 32 grabs for 408 yards and 5 TDs. Bryant is preseason choice for all-conference honors at TE.

Ten starters return to the Owls’ defense led by linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, who is pegged as preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the C-USA. Al-Shaair led FAU with 147 tackles. The Owls led C-USA with 38 sacks. End Hunter Snyder and linebacker Rashad Smith led the team with six sacks each.

Safety Jalen Young and corner Shelton Lewis, first-team picks in the C-USA last year, are the leaders of the secondary. Young led the Owls with 7 interceptions, and Lewis had 4 picks. The d-backs combined for a total of 20 INTs in 2017.

The defensive coaches’ mantra is “to stop the run first.” The Sooners must corral Singletary, wrap him up and don’t allow him any second effort, and force one of the inexperienced QBs to beat them with his arm. If the Owls commit to stopping Rodney Anderson or Trey Sermon, Kyler Murray has some weapons he can find with his arm.

FAU is riding high and wants to prove it can compete on the big stage, and this would be the biggest win in school history as the Owls are 4-37 against FBS opponents and 0-19 when FBS foes are ranked. Should FAU pull an Appalachian State (2007 stunning upset over Michigan), the Sooners chances for a national title are out the window.

Sooners 45, Owls 17.

Fast Facts

  • OU has opened preseason at No. 5 in the coaches poll and No. 7 in the AP poll.
  • OU holds a 94-23-6 (.789) all-time record in season openers; 76-15-4 (.821) in home openers.
  • FAU holds a 5-11 (.312) all-time record in season openers; 3-9 (.250) in road openers.
  • OU is favored by 21 points, according to VegasInsider.com.
  • OU coach Lincoln Riley is 12-2 (.857) overall; 1-0 in season openers.
  • FAU coach Lane Kiffin is 46-24 (.657) overall and 11-3 at FAU; 0-1 in season openers at FAU.
  • Riley is 8-1 vs. unranked opponents.
  • Kiffin is 4-11 all-time vs. ranked opponents; 2-7 vs. Top 10 foes.
  • OU is 3-0 in games played on September 1.
  • FAU is 1-1 in games played on September 1.

Articles by Ray Dozier