Outside of the New Year’s Six, the lone bowl game that will feature 10-win teams will take place on Saturday in Boca Raton, Florida.
Playing on its home field, Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic will take on SMU for the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl. Fresh off a 49-6 thumping of UAB for the Conference USA Championship, the Owls arrive with a record of 10-3. SMU comes in at 10-2.
Offense is what appears to be on the menu for Saturday’s contest. The Mustangs rank in the top 10 nationally in total and scoring offense while FAU scores more points per game than any other team in Conference USA. With Lane Kiffin becoming the new head coach at Ole Miss, Glenn Spencer will serve as the interim head coach for Florida Atlantic.
Both offenses feature solid quarterbacks and deep corps of skill players. SMU junior quarterback and Texas transfer Shane Buechele has more than 3,600 yards passing and an American Athletic Conference-leading 33 touchdown passes with nine interceptions. Chris Robison, the FAU signal caller, has nearly 3,600 yards passing and 26 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions.
The Owls have three different players with at least five rushing touchdowns and four different players with at least five receiving touchdowns. Freshman Malcolm Davidson has carried the load on the ground this season for FAU with more than 700 yards on seven yards per carry and nine touchdowns. Senior Harrison Bryant leads all FBS tight ends with 1,004 yards receiving to go with seven touchdown grabs.
SMU has a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver in Xavier Jones and James Poche. Jones has 1,249 yards rushing for the year and leads the AAC with 21 rushing touchdowns. Poche has more than 1,100 yards receiving on 102 catches and a league-high 14 touchdown catches.
Defense isn’t anything to rave about for SMU, but it does average more sacks per game than any team in the country and ranks second in total sacks behind only Ohio State with 50. Safety Patrick Nelson has 12 sacks and defensive end Delontae Scott has 10. Wisconsin is the only other team in the nation with two players with at least 10 sacks.
The Florida Atlantic defense was carved up early in the season, but has settled in against Conference USA competition. The linebacker combination of Akileis Leroy and Rashad Smith is one of the best that no one seems to talk about. Leroy has 101 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles this year. The Owls also have the nation’s leader in interceptions in senior cornerback Meiko Dotson, who has nine picks. FAU has forced 31 turnovers this season — the most in the FBS.
The Owls don’t have a rich football history, but they are 3-0 all-time in bowl games. SMU will be looking for its first bowl win since the 2012 Hawaii Bowl under June Jones. Saturday’s Boca Raton Bowl begins at 3:30 p.m. ET and airs on ABC.
Prediction: SMU 42, Florida Atlantic 38
Other Games Around the State
Camellia Bowl: Florida International (6-6) vs. Arkansas State (7-5)
Saturday, Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Florida International head coach Butch David will look to improve to 7-3 in bowl games on Saturday. Arkansas State has won four of five since a 3-4 start.
Prediction: Arkansas State 34, Florida International 33
Gasparilla Bowl: UCF (9-3) vs. Marshall (8-4)
Monday, Dec. 23 at 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
UCF aims for a third straight 10-win season in the Gasparilla Bowl. Marshall looks to end the season with a bowl win for the third straight season and sixth time in seven years. The last bowl loss for the Thundering Herd came in the 2004 Fort Worth Bowl.
Prediction: UCF 41, Marshall 27
Independence Bowl: Louisiana Tech (9-3) vs. Miami (6-6)
Thursday, Dec. 26 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Miami will try to avoid losing its third straight game to close the season and first losing season since 2014. Louisiana Tech aims for its first 10-win season in program history.
Prediction: Miami 31, Louisiana Tech 27
Houston Texans (9-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7)
Saturday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
Former national championship-winning ACC quarterbacks will square off in Tampa as the NFL’s leader in passing yards, Jameis Winston, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers go for a fifth straight win against Deshaun Watson and the AFC South-leading Houston Texans. Houston would clinch its division with a victory.
Prediction: Houston 30, Tampa Bay 27
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at Atlanta Falcons (5-9)
Sunday, Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
The Jacksonville Jaguars rallied past the Oakland Raiders last week to snap a 5-game losing streak in the final game in Oakland. Since a 1-7 start, the Atlanta Falcons have quietly won four of six, including road wins over the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.
Prediction: Atlanta 34, Jacksonville 17
Cincinnati Bengals (1-13) at Miami Dolphins (3-11)
Sunday, Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The AFC’s two worst teams will square off in South Florida this weekend. The Miami Dolphins are coming off consecutive losses to bad New York teams. The Bengals are 2-7 all-time in Miami.
Prediction: Miami 24, Cincinnati 20