CHERIBUNDI TART CHERRY BOCA RATON BOWL STORYLINES
1. Florida Atlantic won’t have to travel far for its bowl game; in fact, the team won’t have to travel at all. The Owls will be home for their postseason appearance on Dec. 19, when they face Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl. “Sometimes bowl games are tough to travel to,” Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin told reporters. “Some fans don’t get to go. To be right here, it’s awesome. Competitively speaking, it’s a home-field advantage. The only downside is for the players, that they don’t get to go somewhere else.”
2. The Owls played a competitive non-conference schedule and absorbed three losses before going 8-0 in Conference USA action. They defeated North Texas 41-17 on Nov. 30 to win the league title and possess one of the nation’s top running backs in league MVP Devin Singletary, not to mention an efficient passing game led by Jason Driskel. Florida Atlantic, which is playing in its first bowl game since 2008, finished 3-9 in each of the previous three seasons before turning things around under Kiffin, the former coach at Tennessee and USC, as well as of the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.
3. Akron fell to Toledo 45-28 in the Mid-American Conference championship game – a contest that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated – but still was selected for a bowl game for the second time in three years. The Zips lost to Penn State and Iowa State by a combined 93-14 margin early this season but stabilized thereafter to go 6-2 in the MAC under the guidance of sixth-year coach Terry Bowden. Akron used three quarterbacks against Toledo in search of an offensive rhythm that arrived too late, and it remains to be seen if senior Thomas Woodson, junior Robbie Kelley or freshman Kato Nelson will get the start in Boca Raton.
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ABOUT AKRON (7-6, 6-2 Mid-American Conference): The Zips do not have an impressive rushing attack, as they average 3.3 yards per carry and didn’t have a single player gain 400 during the season. Woodson saw the bulk of the action at quarterback this year and has thrown 14 touchdowns against nine interceptions, while Nelson has an 8-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, although he is completing less than 50 percent of his passes. The team allowed 93 points in two meetings with Toledo but otherwise is yielding a respectable 22.6 points per contest.
ABOUT FLORIDA ATLANTIC (10-3, 8-0 Conference USA): The Owls have not lost since suffering a late setback at Buffalo on Sept. 24, winning nine straight games – eight by double digits – behind a dynamic offense. Florida Atlantic averages 39.8 points – ninth in the nation – and has not been held below 30 since Week 2 against Wisconsin, which enters bowl season with the third-best scoring defense in the country. Driskel has thrown 13 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, while Singletary has run for 100-plus yards in 11 straight games and has staggering totals of 1,796 yards – fourth nationally – and 29 rushing touchdowns, which is eight more than any other player in Division I.