One conference title game that shouldn’t be overlooked this week is the Conference USA Championship Game between the Florida Atlantic Owls and UAB Blazers. Game time is set for 1:30 EST on Saturday, December 7 at the FAU Football Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida. Fans can find the game on the CBS Sports Network.
Current odds have Florida Atlantic favored by 7.5 points on their home field. There is also an over/under of 49.5 points. Click here to check out a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
Bill Clark and the Blazers are just one win away from their second straight Conference USA championship. For a program that didn’t even exist in 2015 and 2016, that would be a massive accomplishment. It was by no means for UAB to get to this point. The Blazers lost their conference opener in September and then suffered back-to-back losses in early November. However, UAB rallied late in the season to beat Louisiana Tech and North Texas the past two weeks to get back on top of the C-USA West Division standings and reach the conference title game for the second straight season.
Meanwhile, Lane Kiffin and the Owls are going after their second Conference USA title in the last three years. Florida Atlantic took home the conference crown two years ago, beating North Texas in the title game. They fell a little short last year, but they are back on top of the C-USA East Division in 2019. The Owls began the season with back-to-back losses to Ohio State and Central Florida but have won nine of their 10 games since then, losing only to Marshall during that time.
This will be the first time since 2014 that Florida Atlantic and UAB have crossed paths. Clark and the Blazers won that game in Boca Raton before the program went on a two-year hiatus. Obviously, both programs have undergone massive changes since that game with Clark practically having to start from scratch and Kiffin rebuilding the Owls into a C-USA heavyweight. With these two teams being the most recent conference champions, it’s safe to say that the winner of this game can call themselves the pre-eminent program in Conference USA at the moment. That means there’s a lot of pride on the line, in addition to a trophy.
Seeing the spread set just a hair over a touchdown gives me a little pause before laying down the points. However, I trust Kiffin in a big game to pull out all of the stops. I also think FAU is the better team in this game. The Owls played in the better C-USA division and faced a more difficult non-conference schedule, and yet they ended up with the same 9-3 record as the Blazers. More importantly, the Blazers have a somewhat narrow path to victory in this game, which is why I think Florida Atlantic will win by double digits and cover the spread.
For UAB, success begins and ends with their defense. The Blazers averaged just 25 points per game this season against a schedule with just four teams that are going to a bowl game. More importantly, UAB was just 1-3 in those games, scoring a total of 42 points. Freshman Dylan Hopkins has taken over the quarterback duties late in the season, but he’s still finding his way. He’s completed just 51% of his passes while throwing just three touchdowns compared to four interceptions. The Blazers are good but not great at running the ball, and not nearly good enough to overcome subpar quarterback play.
In fairness, the FAU defense hasn’t been anything special this season. However, they have managed to allow just under 25 points per game against a schedule that includes seven bowl-eligible teams. More importantly, they’ve been stout against the run for most of the season, holding half of their C-USA opponents to under 100 yards rushing. If the Blazers can’t run the ball, they have little chance of moving the ball consistently with Hopkins at quarterbacks, which makes me think the FAU defense will have a good game.
UAB’s only chance in this game is to force a low-scoring contest. But while they’ve managed to hold nine of their 12 opponents to 20 points or less, UAB’s four bowl-eligible opponents averaged over 25 points per game against them. Meanwhile, Florida Atlantic had one of the most explosive offenses in Conference-USA this season. To be fair, the Owls were a little hit and miss when it came to running the ball. But sophomore Chris Robison is a trustworthy quarterback who had a big season. Robison has surpassed 3,000 yards passing this year with 22 touchdown passes to just five interceptions. With nearly two full seasons of starting experience under his belt, he has a good command of the FAU offense.
All things considered, I think points will be hard to find for UAB. The Blazers will struggle to run the ball consistently against the Owls and don’t have a quarterback who can win the game on his own. While the UAB defense is good enough to prevent a blowout, Robison and the FAU offense should be able to do enough to give the Owls a comfortable win that covers the 7.5-point spread.