Boca Raton Bowl Preview: Florida Atlantic Owls versus Akron Zips

After running the table in conference play and winning the Conference USA championship over North Texas, Florida Atlantic Football will get another home games of sorts when it plays Akron in the Cheribundi Cherry Tart Boca Raton Bowl.

With a win, head coach Lane Kiffin could continue the second-longest win streak in college football and solidify one of the best seasons in FAU history. An Akron win would leave the team with a big final statement going to recruiting in the spring and finalize a bounce-back after a 5-7 year under Terry Bowden

Besides having a name that’s as painful to write as it is to say, the bowl has gone through a bit of transition. What started in 2014 as unsponsored later got picked up by Marmot (Yes, the coat people, in Florida) in 2015 until it was sponsored by Cheribundi this year.

In that time, C-USA teams have won two of the three bowls. The Mid-American Conference picked up the only other win and has lost once, while the American Athletic Conference has lost both its appearances in the game (Power Six performance, indeed).

Both teams have a pair of similarities going into this game:

  • Both coaches are the sons of well known former coaches (Bowden’s father is former Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, while Kiffin’s father is Monte Kiffin, former North Carolina State head coach)
  • Both teams have played in two bowl games so far (FAU 2-0, Akron 1-1)

Other than that, that’s where the similarities end.

For one, FAU has the more powerful offense than Akron by point production. The Owls have averaged 39.8 points to become the ninth-best offense in the nation, while Akron averages only 23.6 (103rd in the nation.)

Part of that firepower comes from running back Devin Singletary, who has 1,794 yards and a nation-leading 29 rushing touchdowns. Singletary’s threat status has been a major asset to open things up for the rest of his offense to perform well and have fun.

Quarterback Jason Driskel has been able to clock one of his best seasons behind the unpredictable offense, throwing for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns with only four interception. He has shown an increased awareness and calm in play calling he did not have during the team’s 3-9 season last year.

The team’s wide receivers have also provided a reason to keep defenses on their toes. John Franklin III, Kamrin Solomon and Willie Wright have taken part in a variety of reverse, wildcat and option plays that help make it one of the most fun to watch.

Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson played for the first time in three games after Kato Nelson took over during his two-game suspension for violating team rules, but we may see both get a chance at snaps during the game. Woodson has more touchdowns (14 to eight) while Nelson has thrown less picks (two to nine) during their respective chances at the job.

Akron’s run game hasn’t really blown anyone away either. The team has not backs with a yard total over 400 yards (Three backs have over 300 yards) while they have 14 total rushing touchdowns.

Expect Akron to work the ball through multiple players and to switch personnel up if things aren’t working.

Photo by Ryan Lynch

On defense, both teams have had plenty of success stopping their opponents. FAU has only given up 24.2 points per game, while Akron has given up 26.3. The key thing to look at is how each team will approach making stops.

FAU has thrived in setting up opportunities for its secondary by rushing the passer, adding 20 picks this season to set a program record.  Linebacker Rashad Smith and defensive lineman Jeremiah Taleni lead the team with five sacks each, while cornerback Jalen Young has seven picks.

Akron is no slouch on secondary either, boasting 19 picks and a team high five from defensive back Jordan George. But the Zips also forced 11 fumbles by 10 different players, proving that they can create chances on turnovers.

Akron had nine players record a full sack compared to FAU’s 13, but both offensive lines will have their work cut out for them. If anything, I give FAU a slight edge on the line due to how much more effective its offense has been compared to the Zips.

For FAU to win, they need to come out of the gates early and put up consistent scoring numbers. During their last game versus North Texas, the Owls slowed down in the second half and did not put up the same scoring they did early.

Akron’s chances lie in stopping a hot FAU offense. If they can keep Singletary from making a difference and limit FAU’s options, they very well have a chance in this game.

This one looks heavily like FAU’s game to lose, considering how hot they’ve been. I say they put up a solid first half and never give up the lead, but with a comeback attempt by the Zips  late in the game.

Prediction: FAU 38, Akron 27

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