Big payout lured FAU to opener vs. OSU

Joey Kaufman
Coach Lane Kiffin led Florida Atlantic to an 11-3 record in 2017, his first season with the Owls. The team fell to 5-7 last season. [The Associated Press file photo]

Florida Atlantic opened last season against a traditional college football powerhouse when it traveled to Oklahoma.

The scene wasn’t pretty. It was routed in a 63-14 loss.

Another tough matchup awaits Saturday when the Owls open their season against fifth-ranked Ohio State at Ohio Stadium.

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Given a choice, Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin would have preferred to face a lesser team from the Big Ten Conference rather than the Buckeyes, who won the conference title the past two seasons.

“You play teams from major conferences,” Kiffin said, “you just play not necessarily the team that’s year in and year out the best team in the conference. But it is what it is. I’m excited for our kids to play at a place like that.”

Kiffin offered thoughts on scheduling in a teleconference with reporters on Sunday. He acknowledged the necessity of the nonconference games to raise money for an athletic department with a smaller budget than those of schools in major conferences.

“You have to make money,” he said.

Florida Atlantic, a member of Conference USA, is guaranteed a payment of $1.4 million from Ohio State.

The matchup was scheduled in 2015 — before Kiffin took over as coach — by athletic director Patrick Chun. Chun, now the athletic director at Washington State, worked for 15 years at Ohio State before leaving for Florida Atlantic.

Oklahoma was also a preseason top-five team last year and headed toward a second consecutive College Football Playoff appearance.

“I don’t think it’s the best idea,” Kiffin said of facing such high-profile opponents to begin the season.

The Owls have not defeated a Power Five conference team since 2007 and are four-touchdown underdogs against the Buckeyes.

Kiffin’s tenure at the school began with greater optimism. In his first season, 2017, Florida Atlantic went 11-3, reached the Conference USA championship game and defeated Akron in the Boca Raton Bowl. The 11 wins were the most ever for the program, which had only three winning seasons since moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2004.

Last season, the Owls finished 5-7.

“It went backwards from what you usually do,” Kiffin said.

Kiffin, 44, chalked up the struggles in his second season at Florida Atlantic to “a collection of a lot of things.”

“The first year, everything went right,” Kiffin said. “We stayed really healthy. Had an older quarterback. Last year, had really significant injuries, lost the best player on our team from a leadership standpoint, and played a freshman quarterback, and we made a lot of mistakes. It was just really a way of how to play really good football one year and how not to the next.”

The team had also switched offensive coordinators between the first and second years. Kendal Briles, who had handled play-calling, left for the same position at Florida State and was replaced by Charlie Weis Jr.

The biggest drop-off was on the other side of the ball, where the Owls fell from 63rd in the nation in total defense in 2017 to 85th last season.


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