BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Lane Kiffin’s first season at Florida Atlantic brought the school’s first Conference USA championship, as the Owls defeated North Texas 41-17 for the league title on Saturday.
Devin Singletary had 26 carries for 164 yards and three touchdowns for the Owls, who extended their unbeaten streak to nine games and were undefeated against C-USA opponents this season. Jason Driskel completed 15 of 27 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown for FAU, and Kalib Woods had a school-record 208 receiving yards.
FAU (10-3) had 633 yards of offense, and Kiffin’s last play call of the day was one where he ordered his brother — defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin — to get a water bucket dumped on him. FAU’s players then got the head coach with one, and the celebration was underway.
“It’s not about me,” Kiffin said on the field afterward. “I’m so happy for these players, for these fans. … It’s just a special year.”
The Owls, who beat North Texas 69-31 in the regular season, took a 34-0 lead in the first 33 minutes on Saturday. FAU had gains of 47, 49, 22, 44, 21 and 34 yards in the first quarter alone, and the lead was never really threatened.
Mason Fine completed 28 of 44 passes for 367 yards for the Mean Green (9-4), whose five-game winning streak was snapped. Turner Smiley had a touchdown catch and Evan Johnson ran one in for North Texas, which will be bowl-bound for the second straight year.
The 10-win season matches Kiffin’s best as a head coach. He went 10-2 at USC in 2011.
“You have to give credit to Coach Kiffin and FAU,” North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. “They’re a really good football team. … They’re unbelievable.”
It took Kiffin less than a full year to turn FAU’s fortunes around. He inherited a program that was coming off three consecutive 3-9 seasons, and took over after three years as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama. Toward the end of last season, Saban said he wanted to help Kiffin land another head-coaching chance — amid speculation that Kiffin wouldn’t have been back at Alabama otherwise.
FAU never looked at the Kiffin hire as a risk. Even if the Owls did, it has officially paid off now.
“He’s been taught by the best,” FAU athletic director Pat Chun said. “He’s had great successes. I think things get lost. He had a winning record as a head coach and he’s learned from his failures. So you put all those together … you thought this could be a place where he achieved a level of success that he had not achieved before.”
North Texas: Fine’s 77-yard pass for a touchdown was the longest play from scrimmage in any Conference USA championship game. Rice had a 75-yard pass in 2013, and UCF had a 74-yard rush in 2007. And even with the loss, the Mean Green need only to win their bowl game to get the program’s first 10-win season since going 10-1 in 1977 under coach Hayden Fry.
Florida Atlantic: This is the eighth time in Kiffin’s last 14 collegiate seasons that he’s been part of a conference championship, including Southeastern Conference crowns each of the previous three years at Alabama. To put what he’s done at FAU in even more perspective, the Owls have 10 wins in their last 11 games — after winning 10 times in the 39 games that immediately preceded that run.
Both teams will learn their bowl destinations on Sunday.
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