In the first season under Lane Kiffin the FAU Owls went 11-3 winning their first conference title since 2007, their first bowl game since 2008, and posting the most wins in school history.
The 2017 football season is the best season in school history by a wide margin. With a majority of this year’s contributors scheduled to return in 2018, FAU will be picked by many to win Conference USA and might even garner some recognition as a candidate to represent the Group of 5 in the New Year’s Six. It’s crazy what a difference a year makes. Let’s take a look back at that year by grading the 2017 season position-by-position.
I want to give FAU an A here. I really do. But the quarterback play this season left me wanting more despite how dynamic the offense was. Daniel Parr started the first three games of the year and passed for 588 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The coaches determined that Jason Driskel had a better command of the offense and named him the starter in the conference opener against Middle Tennessee. Driskel didn’t look back, as he finished with 2,247 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. He still needs to improve as a passer, but his contributions as a runner really took this offense to the next level as Driskel rushed for 427 yards and eight touchdowns.
Driskel’s did everything asked of him in 2017 and delivered. But I fully expect a quarterback competition between him and D’Andre Johnson come spring.
Running Back: A+
Devin Singletary owns just about every record in the book after he rushed 1,920 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2017. Singletary became FAU’s first ever Associated Press All-American and once his career is over he will leave Boca as the most decorated player in FAU history.
As great as Singletary was, his backups Greg Howell Jr. and Kerrith Whyte Jr. both combined to rush for 1,167 yards and seven touchdowns. Just a terrific year from these guys.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: B+
Since the passing offense was hit or miss this season, so were the pass catchers at times. DeAndre McNeal was a highly touted JUCO receiver and was the number one option in the early part of the year but then faded. In the first two games of the season McNeal had seven catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns. He would record 16 catches for 126 yards with zero scores the rest of the way.
McNeal eventually would give way to freshman phenom Willie Wright. Wright led the team in catches (57), receiving yards (657), and touchdowns (6). Wright often seemed like a cheat code during conference play as his speed on the perimeter was too much to handle for opponents.
The emergence of Kalib Woods and Harrison Bryant in the middle of the season took the passing offense to the next level due to their big play ability.
Offensive Line: A+
Is there anyway to get former offensive line coach Garin Justice to return from Arizona? This offensive line group was phenomenal. A year after being ravaged by injuries, this group stayed healthy all season and produced a Conference USA first, three First-Team All-C-USA offensive linemen in Antonyo Woods, Roman Fernandez and Reggie Bain.
They were reliable in short yardage situations (3rd Power Success Rate), not allowing too many runs to result in negative yards (28th Stuff Rate), and not allowing sacks (24th Adj. Sacks)
Defensive Line: B
The story of the d-line is really a tale of two seasons. During the early part of the season they were extremely unreliable. They couldn’t stop the run, and they couldn’t get to the quarterback.
From the North Texas game on they really started to improve week after week. The d-line finished 61st in Havoc Rate. During conference play only one running back rushed for over 100 yards against FAU (Old Dominion’s Jeremy Cox rushed for 202 yards in Week 6).
Azeez Al-Shaair and Rashad Smith were tremendous this season. Al-Shaair broke the record for all-time tackles in a FAU uniform and finished with 10.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Al-Shaair gets all the pub as the emotional leader for the defense but Smith was arguably better. Smith led the team with 12 tackles for loss and six sacks. Being that they both saw a lot of snaps we rarely got to see Hosea Barnwell V and Kris Harris but the two linebackers looked like quality backups when it was their time to shine.
Defensive Back: A+
Jalen Young was the face of a secondary that had 20 interceptions during the 2017 season. Young had seven of them, as he was placed on the All-C-USA First Team. Shelton Lewis joined him as Lewis finished the season with four interceptions.
Zyon Gilbert, Herb Miller, and Chris Tooley were also fantastic as they made countless plays throughout the season when the ball was in the air. Each player is slated to return which means great things for this unit in 2018.
Entering the season my expectations were pretty tame. Snap Middle Tennessee’s winning streak over FAU, win the Shula Bowl, and make it to a bowl game. Lane Kiffin surpassed those expectations and then some.
The season was controversial free. The Owls won games by large margins. Conference USA Twitter hated the #LetsBeJerks movement, but it didn’t matter, as the wins kept coming and the Owls were able to bring home their first ever Conference USA Championship.
Oh, and Lane Kiffin is back for a second year. Football in paradise came back with a vengeance last season and as long as the Lane Train is in Boca expect the good times to continue in the Rat’s Mouth.