When Lane Kiffin agreed to become the next head coach at FAU most people scoffed that his tenure wouldn’t last long. The perception among media members and college football fans was that Kiffin would be one and done. Two years max.
Critics speculated that if he stays longer than two years, FAU would be in worse shape than when he arrived. Those who believed in Kiffin figured FAU would be in the midst of laying the foundation of becoming a Group of Five powerhouse with the likes of Boise State if Kiffin truly stayed in Boca Raton for the long haul.
If you’re a believer in Lane Kiffin the head coach, this season will likely answer any questions about his ability to lead a successful program as the head coach.
Kiffin enters his third season at FAU and just like his coaching career, his two years have achieved incredible highs and frustrating lows.
With a 16-10 record, Kiffin won Conference USA in 2017, and failed to reach a bowl game in 2018. With Charlie Partridge’s recruits pretty much gone, the product we see on the field this season will be an image of Lane Kiffin. The roster is made up of his players. The depth (or lack there of) will be attributed to his ability to build a program.
The landscape of C-USA has changed a bit during his tenure. WKU has regressed since Jeff Brohm’s departure. Middle Tennessee and Marshall are still reliable threats to take the crown, but the emergence of FIU under Butch Davis has taken some shine away from the Owls. After back-to-back bowl seasons, the perception is that Butch’s program is built to last. Kiffin’s success is one that will fade.
The Owls have taken care of business in the Shula Bowl under Kiffin as they have yet to lose to Butch Davis’ Panthers but there’s no denying the tangible confidence coming down I-95 in Miami.
With both FAU and FIU entering Year 3 under Kiffin and Butch, respectively, the Panthers appear to be in better shape.
FIU believes 2019 is their year to not only seize control of the rivalry, but the conference. Their fans expect a conference title at best, and a trip to their third straight bowl game at worse.
What about FAU?
Determining what success looks like for FAU in 2019 is tricky. Lane Kiffin is still the head coach. That statement alone is still awesome despite the disappointment of 2018 but it comes with big expectations and a target.
With the departures of star players such as Devin Singletary, Kerrith Whyte Jr., and Azeez Al-Shaair, is it fair to expect the Owls to reload and revert back to their 2017 form?
Chris Robison is back at QB and no longer a freshman. Robison will have all-conference talents in Willie Wright and Harrison Bryant as pass catchers. BJ Emmons and James Charles out of the backfield should be more than capable to give FAU a good rushing attack.
The defense still boasts a ton of former three-star recruits and high upside players. The secondary could be dynamite with Zyon Gilbert, Chris Tooley, and James Pierre. Rashad Smith is still a terrific linebacker. There are questions along the line of scrimmage with both units but make no mistake, this is a team that has the talent to take C-USA by storm again. Of course, special teams is still the biggest question mark for the team.
So what does this all mean for Kiffin?
Putting aside the record, a successful season sees a better offense. One that is creative and knows how to maximize their strengths. No more excuses for Charlie Weis Jr. and Kiffin. Their second year together should result in a much more consistent unit, given their expertise on offense.
Second to that, FAU needs to beat FIU again. The Panthers haven’t won at FAU since 2012. Butch Davis is building a consistent winner at FIU. As long as he’s there the Panthers will be a challenge. But there’s no reason to expect FAU to lose this game at home.
I don’t have a magic number of wins for Kiffin to reach to assume he’s back in 2020. He’s not on the hot seat and shouldn’t be. But my expectation for FAU is to reach a bowl game. My expectation for Kiffin is to finish with a winning record.
Anything less is a failure. Reaching a bowl game was the expectation I had every year for Carl Pelini and Charlie Partridge, and what I consider the bare minimum for Lane Kiffin.
The Owls are every bit the talented unknown team they were entering the 2017 season as they are now. Soon we’ll see if Kiffin can replicate that magical run and turn in a winning season.
If not, the Lane Kiffin era might be everything Owl fans feared it would be when Kiffin first arrived, a flash in the pan.