Florida Atlantic will play Akron in Boca Raton Bowl
Boca Raton —
The Florida Atlantic seniors who thought they had already played their final home game were wrong.
On Sunday, the Owls learned they will play Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium. The game, which has since adopted the sponsor Cheribundi Tart Cherry, will be played Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.
“To be chosen for this bowl, to have a chance to play in our home stadium, which our players have started to protect that crown, it’s been very exciting.,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said.
FAU will play its second consecutive game at home after defeating North Texas last Saturday in the Conference USA Championship Game. It was the second conference championship in school history. After losing their three non-conference games to Navy, Wisconsin and Buffalo, the Owls went undefeated in league play.
“Sometimes bowl games are tough to travel to,” Kiffin said. “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.”
Akron (7-6) will play in a bowl game for the second time in three years. The Zips, who are coached by former Auburn coach Terry Bowden, won a program-best eight games this season.They won the East Division of the Mid-American Conference.
Kiffin said he was satisfied with the opponent despite it not being one from a Power Five conference.
“I don’t spend time on things that we can’t control,” Kiffin said. “If we don’t have control, there’s no use to talk about it.”
The Owls (10-3) are playing in a bowl for the first time since 2008. That year they defeated Central Michigan 24-21 in the Motor City Bowl.
“Nobody picked us to finish as conference champions,” linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair said. “Everything, we had against us. Everything says we shouldn’t be here. … Now, that we’re it’s a blessing.”
Kiffin needed just one year to complete one of the best turnarounds in college football. The Owls’ seven-game improvement is the second-best in the country behind Fresno State, which is eight games better this season.
For many of the Owls, this season has served as therapy after what they endured during their collegiate careers. They finished 3-9 the past three seasons, with many of the losses being by less than a touchdown.
“It’s exciting,” quarterback Jason Driskel said. “It’s a long time coming for a lot of us. I’ve been here for a long time and had rough times. Just the culmination of all of our work. … I’m just proud to be here.”
Despite being in unfamiliar territory, the Owls are keeping the same approach they have all season. The goal has been to focus on the upcoming opponent instead of looking ahead. Now, they can fully concentrate on the final game of the season.
“Coach Kiffin doesn’t mention it because we talk about [going] 1-0 that week,” receiver Kalib Woods said. “When you look ahead, that’s how you lose the game.”