There is only one game involving an FBS team in the State of Florida on Saturday and there’s as much drama behind the scenes as there will be on the field in Boca Raton. This for Florida Atlantic’s bid to win another Conference Championship Game.
The Owls and Coach Lane Kiffin get set to host UAB, are going for the Conference USA Championship for the second time in three years.
However, the bigger story is one that broke on Friday night that Kiffin, the former head coach at USC and Tennessee before coming to South Florida, is apparently headed back to the SEC to coach Ole Miss.
As we wrote last night, the deal is apparently all but done to bring Kiffin to Oxford, MS. That’s where he will coach in the SEC West, including against Nick Saban and Alabama. Kiffin recently the offensive coordinator at Bama from 2014 – 2016, including helping them win the College Football Playoff Title Game in January 2016.
Back to the game on the field Sunday afternoon. The Owls qualified to host the Title game last Saturday by beating Southern Miss 34 – 17. They are led by quarterback Chris Robinson and outstanding tight end, Harrison Bryant. Bryant had two touchdown catches in the first half of the game last week and is FAU’s best weapon in the air.
UAB is a great story in their own right, as they are the defending C-USA champions and qualified for the title game by upsetting North Texas last Saturday. The Blazers overcame their program being defunded by the state of Alabama’s Board of Regents in 2014. With football dormant for 2 years, coach Bill Clark resurrected it and they resumed playing with new players in 2017.
UAB , won the Conference USA title a year ago on the road at Middle Tennessee State and had the first-ever 10-win season in program history.
The Blazers look to run the football between the tackles with bruising back Spencer Brown. He’s a mid-round NFL prospect and had a hundred yards in their win over North Texas. Brown has 11- 100 yard games in his career and wants to help them grind the clock.
Again, this game does not have the impact of the SEC, Big 12 or Big 10 title games on Saturday, which are vying for the College Football Playoff. But, it still should be exciting and the post-game press conference with Kiffin about his possible new job in the SEC will be “must see,” as well.
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.