What: Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl
Who: SMU Mustangs (10-2) vs. Florida Atlantic Owls (10-3)
Where: FAU Football Stadium
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 21 @ 3pm ET on ABC
It’s that time of year again. Every Division I program battles to reach at least six wins so that their team can end the season with a bowl game. This years Boca Raton Bowl showcases two teams that exceeded the six-win minimum as SMU travels to face FAU. This is one of very few bowl games that features two teams from the same conference. There have been so changes along the coaching staff for FAU while SMU looks to continue dominating on the offensive side of the ball.
What To Watch For:
One of the biggest headlines since the end of the regular season has been the departure of FAU’s head coach, Lane Kiffin. Kiffin left the program after 3 seasons as the Owls head coach with a record of 26-13. In his first year at FAU, Kiffin turned a 3-win program into an 11-3 season that included a 50-3 win over Akron in the 2017 Boca Raton Bowl. On December 12th, FAU announced that they had signed Willie Taggart to be their next head coach. Taggart, former Florida State head coach, will not coach the Owls in their bowl game. Glenn Spencer, FAU’s defensive coordinator, will lead the Owls onto the field on Saturday. Can the Owls continue their six game winning streak without Kiffin?
For SMU, they look to continue their offensive dominance. The Mustangs, lead by former Texas Longhorn Shane Buechele, have averaged 43 points per game while totaling nearly 500 yards of total offense. Their offensive numbers have put them inside the top-10 in both points and passing yards per game. However, SMU isn’t just a passing team. Their backfield has averaged 186 yards per game as well. The Mustangs are one of very few schools that can that they had a 3,500 yard passer (Buechele), a 1,000 yard rusher (Xavier Jones) and a receiver with 102 catches for 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns (James Poche). They will face a stout FAU defense that only gives up 22 points per game and is known to force multiple turnovers. Can SMU add the Owls to their list of victims?
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Players to Watch:
Buechele is one of numerous standout transfer quarterbacks in 2019. The 6-1 redshirt junior had a breakout season after struggling at Texas over the past few seasons. Buechele threw for more than 3,600 yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions. The 33 touchdowns are more than he had during his first three seasons (30) and ranked sixth in the nation. Buechele led a Mustang offense that scored 40 points eight times this season while scoring under 34 just once. He also passed for 400+ yards in three games the season. Buechele’s performance will be the deciding factor in whether or not SMU will leave Boca Raton as bowl champions.
Buechele wasn’t the only SMU player to put up huge numbers. Senior running back, Xavier Jones, did his share of the work as he ran for over 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns. Jones ran for at least 100 yards in eight games this season, scored a touchdown in every game and scored three touchdowns in three separate games. The Buechele-Jones combination would have been any teams dream duo in 2019. When defenses started defending the pass, Jones would run havic on defenses for four quarters. FAU allowed just 136 rushing yards per game this season but viewers should not be surprised if Jones breaks open a few big runs in this one.
Robinson led an Owl offense that scored over 35 points per game in 2019. The sophomore quarterback threw for nearly 3,400 yards and 26 touchdowns while throwing just six interceptions. Robinson capped off the Owls regular season by throwing for four touchdowns in the AAC championship game against UAB. However, he did struggle in games throughout the season to complete a high percentage of his passes including a 45% completion rate in the championship game. Fans must see the more accurate side of Robinson if FAU wants to keep up with a high-scoring Mustang offense.
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The Bacon Raton bowl matches up a high power SMU offense against a strong FAU defense. We have yet to see how the departure of Lane Kiffin will impact the mindset of the Owls but there is a good chance the Owls will start out flat to open the game. Against an offense like SMU’s, starting out flat is not something a wininng team can do.
SMU 37, FAU 24