FIU (2-8) at Florida Atlantic (3-7)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 16, 8 pm (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: FAU Stadium (30,000) -- Boca Raton, Florida. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: FIU 1-4, FAU 2-1. Away Record: FIU 1-4, FAU 1-6. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, FAU 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 1-5, FAU 2-4. Series Record: Florida Atlantic leads, 8-1.
GAME NOTES: A couple of Sun Belt Conference squads that are both shooting for back-to-back wins for the first time this season get together in Boca Raton on Friday night, as the Owls of Florida Atlantic and the FIU Panthers clash in what has become known as the Shula Bowl.
Neither one of these programs is heading to the postseason this year, but there is still a matter of bragging rights to be had in the Sunshine State.
The Panthers are coming off just their second win of the season back on Nov. 3 when they defeated South Alabama on the road in a 28-20 final. The decision snapped a seven-game slide for the squad since it had slipped by Akron in overtime in early September, 41-38.
As for the Owls, they have a total of just three triumphs in 2012, thanks to a 37-28 decision over Western Kentucky on the road last weekend. That win was the second in the last three outings for the program and just the second against another opponent from the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Owls have won all but one of the previous 10 matchups in the series with FIU, although there was a 52-6 triumph for FIU back in 2005 that had to be vacated. Last season the Panthers picked up a convincing 41-7 victory at Alfonso Field which means they are gunning for consecutive wins in the series for the first time this week.
FIU's offense has been mediocre at best this season as it ranks near the bottom in several key stats in the Sun Belt, with one of the most glaring numbers being the three sacks per game the offensive line is giving up. Nevertheless, Jake Medlock has still bought enough time for himself and the passing attack to generate 237.1 ypg, throwing for 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions thus far. Wayne Times, who has caught at least one pass in 27 straight games, third-longest in school history, has 50 catches on the season for 486 yards but has just a single TD.
Instead, most of the scoring glory has gone to Darian Mallory who has carried the ball 89 times for 367 yards and nine scores, the rushing attack accounting for 18 TDs overall.
Unfortunately, the team's scoring defense has been rather weak for the most part, even though they've given up just 34 combined points in the last two outings. The group is averaging 33.3 ppg permitted which is last in the league and 98th in the nation right now.
Tourek Williams has been a standout performer for the group with his 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, both of which pace the program. Another player to keep an eye on is Jordan Hunt who was named the SBC Defensive Player of the Week earlier this month when he made a team-best 11 tackles, forced one fumble, broke up a pair of passes and made an interception versus South Alabama.
Claiming the spotlight for the Owls last week in the win over Western Kentucky was quarterback Graham Wilbert who not only threw for 257 yards and a couple touchdowns, he also ran for another score in the victory on the road. Daniel McKinney turned his four catches into 48 yards and a couple of touchdowns for the visitors, while William Dukes stretched the field for the Owls with nine catches for 104 yards as well.
The defense for the Owls limited WKU to just 288 yards of total offense, picked off three passes and forced a fumble late in the meeting which was returned nine yards for a score by Keith Reaser to put the game out of reach. Reaser also picked off once pass and made one stop behind the line of scrimmage for FAU along the way.
Even with all of those forced turnovers last weekend, FAU still ranks fourth in the conference and tied for 52nd nationally with plus-0.10 turnovers per contest. Like FIU, the Owls also have a tough time fighting their way up the field with just 1.1 sacks per game and 4.4 TFLs per game.
Perhaps the best weapon on either side of the ball for the Owls, Wilbert is completing close to two-thirds of his passes for better than 200 ypg and has tossed 14 TDs, against a mere three picks on 316 attempts.
With very little to play for beyond this weekend, this is a game that takes on major significance for both sides and is one that is FAU's to lose right now.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Florida Atlantic 31, FIU 27
11/14 10:45:56 ET