Even though his team is getting set to go for a second Conference USA Championship Game win in the last three years, the bigger story continues to be about, where FAU coach Lane Kiffin may end up after Saturday?
First, the Owls will play host to UAB Saturday afternoon in Boca Raton for the C-USA Championship. FAU clinched the East Division and the hosting of the game by defeating Southern Miss Saturday night, which gave them a 7 – 1 Conference record.
The 2019 version of the Owls is not nearly as explosive, as his last two teams have been. Those featured the school’s all-time leading rusher and the man that scored more touchdowns than any other FBS player in 2017 – 18, running back Devin Singletary. Singletary was taken in the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills and has already made an impact on their great 9-1 start this season.
FAU has been led by quarterback Chris Robinson, who is solid but not spectacular, and an opportunistic defense the currently leads the nation in takeaways.
So that’s the storyline for the game on Saturday.
However, the more intriguing aspect of Kiffin successfully leading his team back to the cusp of another championship in their conference is: that he may end up in a much more prominent job, as soon as early next week.
That’s because the former head coach at USC, who was also briefly at both the Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers, is apparently in demand again. This would be particularly for a return to the Southeastern Conference with perhaps, the Arkansas Razorbacks.
USA today had a correspondent report Monday that Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek met with Kiffin in person in Boca Raton on Sunday about their vacancy. The Hogs fired second-year coach Chad Morris earlier in November, as he had failed to win a single Southeastern Conference game in his season and a half.
On Tuesday, Kiffin participated in the Conference USA media call for the championship game and the final question indirectly asked about job opportunities that are currently open, his name being mentioned, and how Kiffin handles that distraction with his team,
“I’ve never addressed that and, maybe I’m wrong,” Kiffin said on the call.
“No matter where I’ve been or what’s going on, I’ve never addressed that with the team. To the team it wouldn’t really matter, I wouldn’t think. It more obviously for recruits and stuff, you deal with that. It is what it is and if you are getting mentioned for a job, it’s usually because you’re winning. It’s a product of your coaches and players doing really well.”
Wondering about the specific connection to Arkansas? Well, Kiffin’s father, and legendary former Buccaneers defensive coordinator in the 1990s-2000s, Monte Kiffin, was the Arkansas defensive coordinator in the late 1970s when Lane was a youngster.
Kiffin is also the former offensive coordinator at Alabama, including helping the Tide win a National Championship in 2015. And, it’s believed that Cowboys owner, Arkansas alum and it’s most influential donor, Jerry Jones, is a big fan of Kiffin’s to take the job.
Kiffin would stand to make over $5 million per season with the Hogs, which FAU can never come close to matching.
So, that’s the backdrop for the game Saturday, where FAU looks to make more C-USA history.
And their coach? He could be “history,” too.
Coaches and rosters finalized for East-West Shrine Bowl
The NFL and the newly-renamed East-West Shrine Bowl are finalizing not only their player rosters, but their coaching staffs for next Saturday’s game in St Petersburg, FL.
Late this week, the longest running college all-star game, the East West Shrine Bowl, named its head coaches, both of whom have ties to the Tampa Bay Area.
Bucs inside linebackers coach Mike Caldwell will coach one of the teams, while former Buccaneers and current Falcons tight end coach, Ben Steele will be in charge of the other.
Caldwell, who came to the Buccaneers in Bruce Arians’ first season has been in the NFL for a total of 11 years and had previously served as the assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the New York Jets under Todd Bowles for 4 seasons.
Steele, who has coached in the NFL for seven seasons reunited with Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter in Atlanta after previously having been his tight end coach in Tampa Bay last year.
Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl, said in a statement about the coaching selections,
“We’re very excited to have Mike Caldwell and Ben Steele as head coaches for our East-West Shrine Bowl all-stars,” said Bob Roller, executive director of the East-West Shrine Bowl. “Ben was a coordinator for our 2019 game and both coaches have ties to the Tampa/St. Pete area. They will lead two strong staffs of NFL assistant coaches that will be invaluable to our players as they begin their own journey to the NFL”
Meanwhile, the rosters do have some Florida flair, as several noteworthy names will be on the East team. That’s led by speedy UCF running back Adrian Killins, Gators wide receiver Freddie Swain and USF tight end Mitchell Wilcox. On the East defensive squad, FAU linebacker Rashad Smith, Miami linebacker Shaq quarterman and UCF defensive back Neville Clark are part of the roster.
This will be the 95th playing of the East-West Shrine Bowl and it boasts 71 Pro Football Hall of Famers that have played in their game. And, they also had more than 300 players who were on an NFL roster for Week 1 last year that have played in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
The game also announced that there will be four legendary mentors working with the players in practices later this week in St Pete. Those include: Hall of Fame offensive lineman Will Shields, Super Bowl Champion defensive end Willie McGinest, as well as, long time safety Bobby Taylor and long time wide receiver Amani Toomer.
The game will be played at Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays and televised nationally on the NFL Network at 3 p.m., Eastern Time next Saturday.
New Year’s Day has prominent teams in Florida Bowls
As the new year begins, traditional college football bowl games will be taking place. And even though there are no Florida teams battling on New Year’s Day, there are two prominent bowl games in the state.
First, two of college football’s “Blue Bloods” play Wednesday afternoon, the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines will do battle in the VRBO Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
Both programs come off of disappointing end to their regular-season, as they both lost to their rivals. Alabama dropping a wild 48 – 45 game in the Iron Bowl to Auburn and Michigan losing badly 56-27 to Ohio State and their finale at home.
The Tide are without All American caliber quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who suffered a fractured hip late in the year. However, Nick Saban has arguably the best wide receiving corps in all of college football to compensate for Tagovailoa’s absence.
Michigan has perennially under-achieved under coach Jim Harbaugh, but would love nothing better than to score a head-to-head win against Bama in this one.
Meanwhile across I-4 in Tampa, the 25th playing of the Outback Bowl will take place and it’s a first-time matchup between the SEC Auburn Tigers and the big Ten’s Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Gophers were Darlings of the Big Ten late in the year that they got to 9 – 0 for only the second time in program history before faltering with losses to Iowa and Wisconsin which knock them out of the Big Ten championship game. Their coach P.J. Fleck is the Big Ten coach of the year and has done an amazing job of making Minnesota nationally relevant.
As for the Tigers, we mentioned the victory over Alabama which was particularly sweet for Coach Gus Malzahn, who has been under fire in recent years for not living up to success earlier in the 2010s. Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix, the son of the former Auburn star Patrick Nix, leads a high-powered attack that will look to finish the season on a winning note. The Tigers lost their three biggest games of the year to Florida, LSU, and Georgia, but wins over Alabama and Minnesota will help.
The Gophers have had their most important season since they played in the Rose Bowl in 1962 and would love nothing better than to upset the Tigers in this one.