The Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl has headlines coming in specifically for the team that plays in the stadium where bowl game is hosted.
The Southern Methodist University Mustangs from the American Athletic Conference versus Florida Atlantic Owls out of Conference USA at FAU Stadium.
It has been a whirlwind for the Owls leading up to the Boca Raton Bowl. They will be coached by defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer in the absence of Lane Kiffin, who has taken his talents to Ole Miss to become the head coach. The Owls went 26-13 in three seasons under Kiffin, and are coming off their second straight Conference USA championship.
“They named me interim; it has been whirlwind since then. Continue on to what we have been doing, it has not been broken, there is not much to be fixed,” coach Spencer said. “Keep the staff together, keep the kids together, have the level of consistency with them in preparing, and let them enjoy having a tremendous year.”
Coach Spencer is padding his resume at the moment; however, he has done an excellent job reshaping the FAU defense in his first season on the sidelines. The Owls were third in C-USA in scoring defense, allowing 22.3 points per game.
The Owls hired Willie Taggart as their next head coach to replace Kiffin. The school announced it is a five-year contract. Taggart was fired last month at Florida State after only 21 games as Seminoles coach.
“At the end of the day everybody knows it is a business, every man is going to do what they have to do to take care of their family,” Owls running back BJ Emmons said. “I’m focused on the team and proud of how we stuck together these past three weeks.”
Florida Atlantic will be without at least three critical starters against SMU in Saturday’s game, as first reported by FAU Owl Access. Wide receivers Deangelo Antoine and Tavaris Harrison and linebacker Keke Leroy are not expected to play because of academic suspensions.
Also, Harrison Bryant, a top-ranked tight end for the NFL draft, is battling an illness, and his status for the game is uncertain.
Bryant, Antoine, and Harrison are the Owl’s top three leaders in receiving yards, while Leroy leads the team in both tackles and forced fumbles.
Running backs Malcolm Davidson and Tyrek Tisdale are also reportedly questionable to play. Davidson has run for 711 yards and nine touchdowns this year, while Tisdale is a key special teams player. Defensive end Tim Bonner will not play due to injury.
SMU is seeking its first bowl win since 2012. The Mustangs have shined in the second year under head coach Sonny Dykes, who has unleashed a potent offense that is ranked 9th nationally. They caught the nation’s attention starting the season 8-0 until losing to 24th ranked Memphis by six points. SMU set school records in points (43) and yards (495.3) per game this season. Five offensive starters were named to the all-conference team, including quarterback Shane Buechele, who led the AAC with 3,626 passing yards 33 touchdowns.
“It been fun to see the program grow; it is rewarding to watch the players and see those guys have success and play with a little target on your chest; that is something you have to learn how to do,” coach Dykes said. “It’s a really fun group to coach.”
After reports of FAU’s missing players spread, the line at Caesars moved from SMU -3 on Friday afternoon to SMU -8 by Friday night.
FAU is short-handed in this game, which is why the line has jumped three points since it opened. The Owls are playing at their home stadium for the second time in Boca Raton Bowl history. The last time they stayed at home for the postseason, FAU defeated Akron 50-3 back in the 2017 Boca Raton Bowl in Kiffin’s first year as head coach. FAU went 5-2 at home this season, and SMU was 4-2 on the road.
“You always want to have a couple of new wrinkles; I am sure they will as well,” coach Dykes said. “We do what we do, that is what makes us good. Our coaches understand being good on offense is execution.”
The Mustangs are the deeper and more talented team, especially at wide receiver. James Proche and Reggie Roberson Jr. are ranked second and third in the conference, respectively, in receiving yards per game. Proche is second in the AAC and tied for third in the nation with 14 receiving touchdowns this season. With the suspensions for FAU, it’s hard to pick the Owls here.