C-USA ti­tle game a Shula Bowl away

Beat­ing FIU would clinch FAU a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship slot.

The Palm Beach Post - - SPORTS - By Jake Elman

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.

ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST

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.

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