(Part 12 of a 14-part Conference USA preview series)
Florida Atlantic made waves in December by luring Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to Boca Raton as head coach.
There was hardly a dull moment during Kiffin's three previous head coaching stops with the NFL's Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and Southern Cal as he became a lightning rod for controversy. On the other hand, he reinforced his reputation as an offensive genius over the past three seasons under Nick Saban.
Saying he has learned from past mistakes, Kiffin made it through last week's Conference USA Media Day quietly, but his name was linked to the Ole Miss job just a couple of days later following the resignation of Hugh Freeze. Stay tuned.
At FAU, Kiffin takes over a program which has managed only three winning seasons since its founding in 2001. Howard Schnellenberger guided the Owls to back-to-back bowl victories in 2007-08. However, the Owls' best mark over the past eight years was 6-6 in 2013.
Coming off of three consecutive 3-9 seasons, FAU was more than willing to give Kiffin a chance to energize the program.
Seven starters return from an offense which ranked seventh in C-USA in scoring (26.4 points per game), third in rushing (188.2 yards per game), 10th in passing (210.1 ypg) and sixth in total offense (398.3 ypg).
Junior Jason Driskel passed for 2,415 yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 11 starts, but could be unseated by East Mississippi Community College transfer De'Andre Johnson. Classified as a sophomore, Johnson originally signed with Florida State before spending a season in Scooba, Mississippi.
Sophomore Devin Singletary (152 carries, 1,021 yards, 12 touchdowns; 26 receptions, 163 yards) and senior Buddy Howell (167-828-13) are a solid running back tanden.
With the status of senior Kalib Woods (68 receptions, 934 yards) in limbo due to a January off-campus incident, there is a dearth of experience at wide receiver. Sophomore Pico Harrison (18 receptions, 304 yards, 1 TD) and senior Nate Terry (17-242-2) are the top returnees. Junior tight end DeAndre McNeal, a Texas signee who spent last year at Fullerton (Calif.) Community College, is being counted on for immediate help.
Three seniors return up front in left guard Roman Fernandez, center Antonyo Woods and right tackle Jakobi Smith. Also back are senior left tackle Reggie Bain and sophomore left guard Garrick Thomas. Bain missed the entire 2016 season after being injured in an automobile accident. Thomas started the first four games before going down with a season-ending injury.
Chris Kiffin, the head coach's brother, faces a momentous challenge as defensive coordinator. Six starters return from a unit which ranked dead last in the 13-member league in scoring (39.8 points per game), rushing (119 yards per game), passing (268.4 ypg) and total defense (513.8 ypg).
FAU lost its best player to the NFL Draft when C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Trey Henderson (50 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 4 blocked kicks) was taken by the New Orleans Saints in the third round.
Senior end Haiden Nagel (37 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and junior tackle Steven Leggett (30 tackles, 4 TFL) return on the D-line. Also contending for playing time are junior Ray Ellis at tackle, and EMCC transfer Tim Bonner and senior Nick Internicola at end.
Junior Azeez Al-Shaair (113 tackles, 12 TFL, 1 INT), the team's leading tackler the past two seasons, is the lone incumbent linebacker.
Three starters return in the secondary. Senior Raekwon Williams (48 tackles, 1 INT, 9 pass breakups and junior Shelton Lewis (35 tackles) are the corners with junior Jalen Young (100 tackles, 2 INTs) at safety.
Senior Greg Joseph made 10-of-14 field goals last season, including 4-of-5 from 40-plus yards. The punter's job has yet to be determined.
2017 FLORIDA ATLANTIC SCHEDULE
(All Times Central and subject to change)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Sept. 1 (Fri.) Navy 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Wisconsin 11 a.m.
Sept. 16 Bethune-Cookman 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Buffalo TBA
Sept. 30 Middle Tennessee* 6 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Old Dominion* 5 p.m.
Oct. 21 North Texas* TBA
Oct. 28 at WKU* 3:30 p.m.
Nov. 3 (Fri.) Marshall* 5 p.m.
Nov. 11 at Louisiana Tech* 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 18 FIU* 6 p.m.
Nov. 25 at Charlotte* 1 p.m.