Head coach Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic team will look to win a second Conference USA title in three years on Saturday afternoon as the Owls play host to UAB in the Conference USA Championship.
After finishing just 5-7 last season, FAU has bounced back from an 0-2 start to win nine of its last 10 games. The Owls clinched Conference USA’s East division last week with a 34-17 win over Southern Mississippi, which also allowed UAB to advance.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Blazers had done away with football and now, they’re trying to repeat as C-USA champions under head coach Bill Clark. UAB defeated Middle Tennessee State last season in Murfreesboro to win the conference crown. UAB clinched the West division last week with FAU’s win and a 41-20 victory over UTSA.
Saturday’s contest in Boca Raton will feature Conference USA’s top scoring offense and top scoring defense. The Owls are putting up a league-high 34.1 points per game and are second in yards per game in the conference behind only Louisiana Tech. Quarterback Chris Robison ranks second in the conference with 3,129 yards passing and 22 touchdown passes.
Notable skill players for FAU include sophomore running back Malcolm Davidson and tight end Harrison Bryant. Davidson has nearly 600 yards on 6.4 yards per rush and nine rushing touchdowns. Bryant is 35 receiving yards shy of 1,000 and has caught six touchdowns. Fellow tight John Raine has five touchdown catches.
Allowing less than 19 points and less than 270 yards per game, UAB leads Conference USA and ranks in the 15 nationally in both categories. Linebackers Jordan Smith and Kristopher Moll are the top duo in the league when it comes to quarterback sacks as they have combined for 19 this season. Moll leads the team with 88 total tackles while both have forced four fumbles this season.
The Blazers have a nice pair of safeties in Will Boler and Dy’jonn Turner as well. Boler leads the team with two interceptions.
FAU has the nation’s leader in interceptions in Meiko Dotson, who has eight this season. The Owls lead the conference in that category with 19 total. As a defense, the Owls rank in the upper-half of the conference in most statistical categories.
Akileis Leroy, a junior linebacker, leads FAU with 94 total tackles, 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles to go with three interceptions. Senior linebacker Rashard Smith is also a very good player for the Owls.
UAB ranks just 10th in total and scoring offense in Conference USA, but hasn’t allowed more than 21 points in any conference game. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Johnston III has been largely inconsistent this season, but he does have a serviceable duo of rushers and a solid pair of wide receivers.
In the backfield, junior Spencer Brown and sophomore Lucious Stanley have each rushed for more than 400 yards this season and have combined for 12 touchdown rushes. Out wide, receivers Austin Watkins and Kendall Parham are each big-play threats. The two have each averaged more than 20 yards per reception — good for first and second in Conference USA — and have combined for nearly 1,500 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. Watkins has a team-high 890 yards receiving while Parham leads the team with six touchdown receptions.
Both teams will enter the contest with a 9-3 record. The contest begins at 1:30 p.m. ET and will air on CBS Sports Network.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 27, UAB 20
Miami Dolphins (3-9) at New York Jets (4-8)
Sunday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Since an 0-7 start, the Miami Dolphins are 3-2. That stretch started with a 26-18 win over the New York Jets. Since losing to Miami, the Jets are 3-1. They did lose to previously winless Cincinnati last week.
Prediction: Miami 23, Jets 21
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)
Sunday, Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have reeled off consecutive road wins while the Indianapolis Colts have lost four of five after a hot start. Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston ranks second in the NFL in passing yards, but has also thrown more interceptions than any other quarterback in the league.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, Indianapolis 22
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (4-8)
Sunday, Dec. 8 at 4:05 p.m. ET (FOX)
Since a 4-4 start, the Jacksonville Jaguars have lost four straight as they turn back to rookie Gardner Minshew at quarterback. The Los Angeles Chargers are just 4-8, but all eight losses have come by seven points or less.
Prediction: Chargers 30, Jacksonville 20
Mike Ferguson is a contributor for The Grueling Truth, covering Florida sports and sports history. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFergusonMikeWFerguson”>@MikeWFerguson/a>. To keep up with all of his work, like his Facebook page.