Conference USA Title Game Preview: North Texas Mean Green at Florida Atlantic Owls

Conference USA’s championship matchup is a game so nice, they’re gonna play it twice.

All jokes aside, Florida Atlantic and North Texas will match up to see who will get their first championship ever. For both teams, who have struggled in mediocrity and stagnation, a championship would represent the peak of what a successful rebuild looks like.

But even though FAU took the first meeting between the two teams this season 69-31, don’t count out the Mean Green yet. Here’s what you need to know for this game.

North Texas

By University of North Texas – University of North Texas Athletic Department, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20207543

Mason Fine has recovered from his loss verses Florida Atlantic to win five straight. In that time, he’s proven that he is one of the best quarterbacks in the west and especially good in close game situations.

The main problem with Fine’s performance at FAU was he threw two picks, his most since throwing two at Southern Methodist on Sept. 9. Even with two touchdowns and 283 yards, he couldn’t get it consistently going on offense to combat an FAU offense that just rolled.

The quarterback has thrown only four picks in the last five games, so this matchup will test if he got over the turnover bump in his last game versus the Owls.

Fine’s resounding play has also helped the offense surge, as the Mean Green have the 17th best offense in the country, averaging 37.5 points per game. Head coach Seth Littrell has bits of Mike Leach’s air raid offense running through his team, which has only paid off for him in his second year.

Defensively, North Texas got put through the ringer as the Owls put a program-record 69 points in their last matchup. Facing that same hot offense, a strong pass rush is a must to contain FAU.

Look for E.J. Ejiya, Tillman Johnson and Brandon Garner to try and make Driskel’s life difficult. If they can, they may cause the Owls offense to stagnate a bit.

Florida Atlantic

Photo by Ryan Lynch

Devin Singletary is going to be the player to watch for the Owls offense. After 10 straight games of over 100 yards of rushing and a nation-leading 26 rush touchdowns, the running back looks like he has plenty in the tank.

Against North Texas, he ran for 123 yards, averaging 7.2 yards per carry on his way to three touchdowns. That came on 17 carries, which tied for his third lowest total this season.

Quarterback Jason Driskel threw for 357 yards of passing in the last matchup versus the Mean Green, so look for him to go off again. With the ability to run and a strong play action fake, north Texas will have its hands full trying to contain the offense.

Driskel sometimes can fade into the background when Singletary performs well, so look for the Mean Green to try and force Driskel to make more plays.

FAU’s secondary is one of the best this year but they’ve cooled down. After racking up 18 interceptions in the first nine games, the team has not forced a turnover in the last three.

Jaylen Young could have a chance to break the cold streak and continue his success this year, as he has been very successful at being a senior leader for the defense. Sheldon Lewis and Chris Tooley also had picks in the last game, so look for them to make a few plays on the ball as well.

All in all, head coach Lane Kiffin deserves props for the progress he has made with this team. After three seasons of 3-9 ball, he has reinvented FAU into what could become a Conference USA powerhouse if he sticks around.

Who Will Win?

Obviously, FAU won the last matchup with relative ease. But this game will be much closer than the last.

The Owls looked a bit stale versus one-win Charlotte, so a smaller offensive production could be very believable. But, they have had more success at home, putting up 69, 30 and 52 in their last three games.

North Texas has played cupcake teams in two of their last three games, but have not looked bad versus them. If they can keep their offensive momentum going, Fine and co should have a much better game.

I see Florida Atlantic winning this one in a 38-30 edge out. North Texas will have the last drive of the game, but FAU will make a stop and have the last laugh.

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