C-USA title game a Shula Bowl away
Beating FIU would clinch FAU a conference championship slot.
BOCA RATON — With Florida Atlantic and Florida International both picked to finish near the bottom of Conference USA’s East Division, fans on both sides knew they could at least look forward to their annual Shula Bowl.
But this year’s Shula Bowl, for the first time in history, will have both the Owls (7-3, 6-0 C-USA) and Panthers (6-3, 4-2) playing for something more than the Don Shula Award.
With a win Saturday night, Lane Kiffin’s FAU squad can clinch a spot in the C-USA title game.
“No disrespect to rivalries or whatever, but that’s not our focus,” Kiffin said. “(It’s not about) the Shula Bowl or whatever
it is. It’s about today, preparing really well, having a really good week of practice and going to play a team that’s played as well as anybody at times.”
Riding a three-game winning streak into last Saturday’s home game against Old Dominion, the Panthers were upset 37-30 by the Monarchs. FAU has won six consecutive games and seven of its last eight.
“Like most teams, they’ve been up and down but when they’re up, they’re as good as anybody,” Kiffin said of FIU.
FAU leads the annual Shula Bowl — named for former Dolphins head coach Don Shula — with 10 wins in 15 games, although FIU has won four of the last six. The Owls hold a 2-1 lead in Shula Bowl games played at FAU Stadium, which hosted its first matchup between the two in 2012.
Kiffin has praised firstyear FIU coach Butch Davis, who like Kiffin took over a struggling program and turned it into an instant contender. Even if FIU loses its final three games, the Panthers already have clinched their first plus .500 record since going 8-5 in 2011 under Mario Cristobal, who worked with Kiffin at Alabama from 2014-16.
“(Davis) has done a great job — obviously (both FAU and FIU) won six games combined last year (actually a combined seven wins) and now both teams have won over six, so I think it’s great,” Kiffin said. “It’s great for South Florida football.
“Who would’ve thought we’d be sitting here this time of year having more wins than Florida and Florida State combined?”
The Lane Plane: A lover of marketing teams and players, Kiffin said he was amused at the sight of a plane flying over ESPN’s “College GameDay” show in Miami Gardens on Saturday morning pulling a banner that read “Come to #FAU.”
“It’s all part of a plan,” Kiffin said. “Obviously, until you start playing, you gotta talk and you’ve gotta get attention to other ways for recruiting, for your program, for your university. The best is when you get that and you start playing really well.”
Quoting the original tweet, which featured a picture of the banner, Kiffin re-tweeted “Hmmmm” with emojis that included a football, a fire and an owl.
Kiffin said he did not know who organized the flown banner, but he speculated it was the university’s doing.
Noteworthy: Kiffin said he expects safety Jalen Young and defensive back/linebacker Andrew Soroh to play against FIU after injuries they sustained against Louisiana Tech. There was no update provided on tight end John Raine (knee/leg) . ... An FAU spokesperson confirmed the team is still planning to honor its seniors Saturday night and will not push that back if the Owls host the C-USA title game . ... Sophomore running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. (Seminole Ridge) was named C-USA’s Special Teams Player of the Week after a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Louisiana Tech. Whyte became the first player in FAU history to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin and the Owls have won six consecutive games and seven of their last eight. They are undefeated in Conference USA.