There are Conference USA title game implications, not to mention major South Florida bragging rights, on the line this weekend when the Florida International Panthers make the short drive north to visit the Florida Atlantic Owls. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:00 EST on Saturday, November 9 at FAU Football Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida.
According to our Week 11 college football odds, the Owls are 10-point favorites at home. The game also has an over/under of 60.5 points.
Florida Atlantic has the most at stake in this game. Lane Kiffin and the Owls have rattled off six wins in their last seven games to secure bowl eligibility despite starting the season 0-2 with losses to Ohio State and Central Florida. They also hold a 4-1 conference record, putting them in a tie with Marshall atop the C-USA East division. The problem is that FAU’s only conference loss came against Marshall. That means the Owls need to win their three remaining games while hoping that Marshall loses at least once. It also means that if Florida Atlantic suffers a second conference loss, their hopes of winning a second conference title in three years will be all but gone.
As for Florida International, the Panthers are all but out of the running in the C-USA East division. However, FIU is 5-4 on the season and can go to a bowl game under Butch Davis for a third straight season if they win one of their final three games. The caveat is that FIU’s remaining games are against the Miami Hurricanes and away at Marshall, both of which figure to be difficult games for the Panthers. If Florida International is going to qualify for a bowl game, this might be their best chance to get their sixth win.
Aside from bowl games and conference championships being at stake this week, this is a rivalry game that holds great meaning for players on both sides. The annual game between FAU and FIU is actually dubbed the Shula Bowl because the first head coach at each program had a connection to the longtime Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula. There is even a trophy at stake that’s awarded to the winner of the game every year.
The Owls are the current holders of the Don Shula Award. Florida Atlantic owns the all-time series 12-5, including wins in each of the past two seasons. In fact, the Owls have dominated the past two games in this series, winning by margins of 28 and 35 points. The Panthers haven’t beaten FAU since 2016 and their only win at FAU Stadium came in 2012.
I’m all in on the Owls in this game. All six of Florida Atlantic’s wins this season have come by at least 10 points. On the other hand, it’s hard to be impressed by any of FIU’s wins this season. They’ve come against the likes of UTEP, Charlotte, and Old Dominion. Plus, the Panthers have lost by double figures in three of their four losses, including blowout losses at the hands of Tulane and Middle Tennessee. Florida Atlantic is surely as good as each of those teams, so I expect another comfortable win for the Owls in this rivalry.
Over their last seven games, the Owls have been held under 30 points on just one occasion. Quarterback Chris Robison has put a couple of subpar outings against Middle Tennessee and Marshall behind him and has played at a high level the past weeks. On the season, he has just four interceptions, so the Owls can count at least count on him to avoid mistakes. The FAU offense has also received a much-needed boost from running back Malcolm Davidson. He’s averaging six yards per carry on the season and provided a midseason sparked for an otherwise sluggish running game.
Meanwhile, the Florida International defense has had a tough time against some of the better teams on their schedule. As noted, their wins have come against some of the worst teams in the country. On the contrary, they allowed 42 points against Tulane, 43 points against Louisiana Tech, and 50 points against Middle Tennessee. Typically, they’ve been gashed on the ground, which is why Davidson could be so important in this game. But the Panthers have also been vulnerable in the passing game, so I’m expecting a balanced FAU offense to have a field day against Florida International.
I’m not expecting much help from the FIU defense, so it’ll be up to the offense to keep the Panthers in the game. However, senior quarterback James Morgan has regressed considerably this year. He’s thrown just 10 touchdown passes in eight games after throwing 26 last year. His completion percentage is also down considerably from a year ago. At times, the Panthers have run the ball with success, but they’ve had a hard time scoring against some of the better teams on their schedule. That doesn’t fill me with confidence in a game in which Florida International may need their offense to carry them.
All things considered, I think the Florida Atlantic offense will be able to have sustained success in this game, but I’m not sure I can say the same for Florida International. The only way the Panthers can win this game is in a shootout and I don’t think their offense is potent enough to keep up with the Owls. I like FAU to pull away in the second half and cover the 10-point spread.