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FAU Football 2017 Season Preview: All aboard the Lane Train!

I don’t know where it’s going, but it’ll be a hell of a ride either way.

Miami v Florida Atlantic Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It’s here Owl fans. The highly anticipated 2017 season is finally here. After being surprised with the news that Lane Kiffin was replacing Charlie Partridge to become FAU’s fifth ever head coach, we have been waiting for this moment for some time.

Kiffin has no doubt lived up to the hype off the field, as FAU has constantly been in the news during the offseason. But Kiffin wasn’t just brought in to generate a media frenzy in Boca Raton, he was brought in to awake the sleeping giant that is the FAU football program.

The talent is there for the program to take steps in the right direction to become that giant but with a Conference USA that features a bunch of teams trending in the right direction, the 2017 season could end in a variety of ways.


Offense

UTEP v Florida Atlantic
Jason Driskel handing the ball off to Devin Singletary
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Lane Kiffin has made his name in coaching circles as a brilliant offensive coordinator. His reputation consists of a pass-first philosophy. Same goes for offensive coordinator Kendall Briles due to his days running Baylor’s spread offense.

This season though they may want to change their tune. After bursting onto the scene for 1016 yards with 12 touchdowns, while averaging 6.7 yards per carry in 2016, Devin Singletary enters his sophomore year as the face of the Owls offense. Given that Singletary displayed nice hands last year, we should see Singletary’s usage increase tenfold this season as not only the lead ball carrier, but as a weapon in the passing offense too.

UTEP v Florida Atlantic
Devin Singletary
Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Given that Kalib Woods is still suspended indefinitely, FAU still lacks proven contributors at receiver. JUCO transfer De’Andre McNeal seems like the leading man to take Woods’ production. It would also be nice for senior Nate Terry to put it all together this final season but consistency still seems to be an issue. Using Singletary as a passing option more frequently in 2017 should be the move as he is a mismatch against linebackers.

Greg "Buddy" Howell averaged five yards per carry last season and led the team in rushing touchdowns with 13. Kiffin and Briles have a history of featuring successful rushing attacks with multiple running backs and that should parlay in Boca Raton, as both Buddy and Singletary are capable of leading the team in rushing this season.

After a makeshift offensive line that suffered a ton of injuries in 2016, this season features a ton of experience from the group. Due to those injuries forcing younger players to play, experience and depth shouldn’t be an issue in 2017.

Throw in the addition of former San Diego State starter Will Tuihalamaka and the return of Reggie Bain, and we could see an even more potent rushing attack from the Owls this year.

Of course, who will be handing the ball off to Buddy and Singletary has yet to be determined. For the second straight season FAU is holding a quarterback competition to see who will be the starter.

Based on practice reports, its a two-way battle between Jason Driskel and De’Andre Johnson with Daniel Parr barely on the outside looking in. In spring, Johnson winning the job seemed to be a formality but now I’m not sure. Both have struggled with consistency and have yet to blow the coaching staff away.

My guess is we’ll see both play in the home opener against Navy. Whoever the starter is they’ll have an experienced offensive line and a talented backfield to lean on.


Defense

NCAA Football: Florida International at Florida Atlantic
Jalen Young and co.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin inherits a defense that has a talented secondary that woefully underachieved in 2016 and a front seven that lacks proven playmakers.

Rather than work with what he’s got, Lane Kiffin has brought in a ton of Power Five and JUCO transfers to this unit. I noted last week that Jeremiah Taleni at defensive tackle will have the biggest say if this defense improves.

Although the run defense was bad last year, the biggest disappointment was how woeful the pass defense was. After making waves as freshmen, Jalen Young, Ocie Rose, and Herb Miller regressed as sophomores.

FAU ranked 120th or worse in Passing Downs S&P+, Passing Downs Success Rate, and Passing Downs IsoPPP (a stat that measures how good you are at preventing explosive passing plays). As bad as the run defense was, the passing defense was just as terrible.

Kiffin has implemented a 4-2-5 defense, a defense that Carl Pelini employed when he was the head coach. Being that this is Kiffin’s first time ever running a defense, it’s tough to forecast if he has the chops to turn this unit around. FAU’s most talented playmakers reside in the secondary so getting those guys on the field as much as possible is a good sign.

If the P5 transfers in the front seven play to their potential then we could see marked improvement from this unit. My biggest concern is chemistry and grasping the playbook from the newcomers. Based off how they look coming off the bus it’s obvious the new guys have the talent to make an impact, but none of that will translate if they don’t know what they’re doing.

I expect this defense to struggle during the early part of the season but really hit their stride during conference play.


Outlook

NCAA Football: FAU Press Conference
Hoping to see a bunch of points on the scoreboard this fall, complete with Kiffin raising his arms before an Owl reaches the end zone.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

FAU will enter 2017 with a hodgepodge of P5 misfits hoping to put their talent on full display. The potential is undeniable. If the team gels fast and Johnson or Driskel provide just steady play at quarterback, FAU could win as many as nine games this season.

If the P5 transfers don’t take to Kiffin’s coaching style and decide to shift their attention to the NFL, we could see the Owls crater to another 3-9 season. This time however, it may come with embarrassing storylines from Kiffin.

S&P+ projects FAU to go 6-6. S&P gives the Owls a win probability of over 50 percent in seven games (Bethune-Cookman, at Buffalo, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Marshall, FIU, and at Charlotte) with two likely loses (38 percent vs Navy, 34 percent at La Tech) and two sure loses (less than 20 percent at Wisconsin, at WKU).

I think a 5-7 or 6-6 season is a safe call. Setting the bar at a bowl game should be the expectations for FAU in 2017. Bill Connelly said Lane Kiffin at FAU will mean wins and controversy.

I hope the Lane train steers towards the winning the track, but I think it’s safe to say this will be the most entertaining FAU football season in school history. Win or lose, I’m ready for it.

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