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Lane Train rolls into Title Town as FAU claims first Conference USA crown

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Really, this was the only way for the regular season to end for Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic.

In his first season as FAU’s head coach, the former Alabama offensive coordinator made headlines from coast-to-coast seemingly on a daily basis for his tweeting habits off the field.  Somewhat lost amidst the non-football social media hoopla was the team’s success on the field, with the 9-3 Owls riding an eight-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s Conference USA championship.

Exiting it, that streak has now reached nine in a row as FAU (10-3) jumped out to a huge lead on North Texas (9-4) then “held on” for a 41-17 win.  The game marked the first-ever Conference USA title game appearance for both football programs and, thus, the Owls first-ever league title.

The Mean Green had been looking to exact a measure of revenge as the Owls thumped them 69-31 in Week 8.  That game was also played on FAU’s home turf.

With Win No. 10, FAU set the school’s single-season victory mark, breaking the standard of nine set by the legendary Howard Schnellenberger‘s first team back in 2004.  Not only that, but the Owls now have one more win this season under Kiffin than they had in the last three years combined.

And, as has been the case throughout 2017, FAU’s offense played a pivotal role in the success.

The Owls entered Week 14 10th nationally in scoring (39.8 points per game) and 16th in total offense (480.2 yards per game).  Saturday afternoon in Boca Raton, they had 27 points and 382 yards… in the first half alone.  The Mean Green defense stiffened in the second half, however, as the Owls finished the game with 486 yards of offense.

FAU led 27-0 at halftime and 34-0 in the middle of the third quarter before UNT mounted what turned out to be an incomplete mini-comeback.

With three rushing touchdowns on the day, including one late in the fourth quarter that officially snuffed out UNT’s come-from-behind hopes, Devin Singletary now has 29 rushing touchdowns on the season.  That ties the Conference USA record set by Central Florida’s Kevin Smith in 2007.  Smith is now the running backs coach at… FAU.

Those 29 touchdowns, incidentally, re also tied for fifth-most in FBS history.

Singletary wasn’t the only offensive star of the game as wide receiver Kalib Woods caught six passes for 208 yards and a touchdown.

It wasn’t a perfect day for the Owls, however, as John Franklin III had a long touchdown run taken away after he Deshaun Jacksoned the moment.

A group of newcomers on track for first Conference USA championship

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The Conference USA Championship has existed since 2005 and, thus far, only one program acquired since the league’s mass Sun Belt addition in 2013-14 has reached the game: Western Kentucky in each of the past two seasons.

That’s about to change.

North Texas, a 2013 addition, all but wrapped up the C-USA West title with a 24-23 win at Louisiana Tech. The Mean Green trailed 17-10 at the half and 23-17 in the fourth quarter before going on top for good on a 14-yard Jeffrey Wilson scamper with 6:04 remaining and surviving a missed 53-yard field goal by the Bulldogs with 2:39 to play.

That victory pushed the Mean Green to 5-1 in C-USA play, one game ahead in the loss column of 4-2 UAB and 3-2 Southern miss. North Texas closes conference play with UTEP at home on Saturday and a visit to Rice on Nov. 25 — a pair of teams that are 0-8 in C-USA when not facing each other. And here’s the kicker: thanks to head-to-head victories over UAB and Southern Miss, North Texas needs only one win against UTEP or Rice to clinch its first West Division championship.

In the East Division, a pair of programs with new coaching hires appear on a collision course. Fellow 2013 addition Florida Atlantic, under new head coach Lane Kiffin, claimed significant control over the division with a 30-25 win over Marshall on Friday night.

The Owls are being chased by their South Florida rivals in another 2013 Sun Belt acquisition Florida International, led by a new hire in Butch Davis. The Golden Panthers moved to 4-1 in conference with a 14-7 victory over UTSA on Saturday.

FIU visits FAU on Nov. 18, with the winner seizing the fast track to its own C-USA Championship debut against (most likely) North Texas.

FAU will allow star WR with felony charges pending to return, play

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I’m going to go ahead and guess that some will have some fun with and/or angst over Lane Kiffin for the decision made by his current employer.

In mid-June, Kalib Woods was arrested on two counts of felony battery. The charges stemmed from a January party in which it’s alleged that the Florida Atlantic wide receiver broke the jaw of one man and caused internal bleeding in another.

Because of the charges, Woods was suspended for the Owls’ first six games of the season. Despite the fact that the felony charges are still pending — his next court appearance is Jan. 10 — his lawyer has confirmed to OwlAccess.com that his client will be allowed to play in this Saturday’s Homecoming Game against North Texas.

The decision was made during a university disciplinary hearing Monday.

“I applaud the university or doing the right thing despite the fact that criminal charges are still pending,” Woods’ attorney, Michael Gottlieb, told the website.

Initially barred from campus after the arrest, the school ultimately reversed course, which allowed Woods to attend classes and practice with the team. The website also reports that Woods was removed from scholarship and is now a member of the team as a walk-on.

Last season, Woods was easily the Owls’ top threat in the passing game as he led the team with 68 receptions for 934 yards. For his career, the redshirt senior’s 111 catches have produced 1,487 yards and six touchdowns.

Riley Ferguson throws 7 TDs, Anthony Miller makes school history as Memphis blows away UConn

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Memphis (4-1, 1-1 AAC) quarterback Riley Ferguson tied an American Athletic Conference record with seven touchdown passes thrown in a single game Friday night in a 70-31 road win at UConn (1-4, 0-3 AAC). Tigers wide receiver Anthony Miller had himself a big night to contribute to Ferguson’s success with 15 catches for 224 yards and a school-record four touchdowns.

The record for most touchdown passes in a single game by a player form the AAC was previously set by former Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who is now in the NFL with the Denver Broncos.

Here’s a look at the touchdown that moved Ferguson into a tie with the former Memphis quarterback…

Miller ended his night with 224 receiving yards and four touchdowns, pretty much doubling his season total coming into the night.

Ferguson completed 34-of-48 pass attempts for 431 yards and the seven touchdowns before finally getting a rest in the fourth quarter as David Moore stepped in to replace him. Memphis accumulated 711 yards of total offense, more than making up for what at times was a rough showing by the Memphis defense. But UConn did themselves no favors with three turnovers and going just 2-for-11 on third down attempts.

Memphis will hope to keep this momentum going next week when they host Navy in what looks to be a pivotal game in the AAC West standings. The Midshipmen are already 3-0 in conference play, while Memphis evened their record against conference opponents after getting rolled over by UCF last week.

Uconn will look to get something on track next week with a road game at Temple.

Offense clicks for No. 13 Auburn in waltz over No. 24 Mississippi State

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When it all clicks, this is what a Gus Malzahn team is supposed to look like.

The 13th-ranked Tigers got an ultra-efficient night from quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a 100-yard effort from running back Kerryon Johnson and a ferocious defensive effort to pound No. 24 Mississippi State 49-10 at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn accepted the ball to open the game and immediately raced 75 yards in seven plays — all of them runs. Johnson had the key run, a 59-yarder to take the ball from the Auburn 36-yard line to the Mississippi State 5, and the finisher, a 1-yard plunge. After a fumble on their next possession, Auburn made atonement by again racing nearly the length of the field. This time they moved 77 yards in five snaps, culminating in a 7-yard strike from Stidham to Ryan Davis.

Stidham’s second touchdown pass, a 47-yard strike to Will Hastings, effectively put the game out of reach, staking Auburn to a 21-3 lead with 13:38 left in the second quarter.

The Bullodgs posted their best offensive possession of the night in their final touch of the first half, a 77-yard march capped by a Nick Fitzgerald 5-yard toss to Justin Johnson.

Auburn (4-1, 2-0 SEC) shut the door for good on its first possession of the second half. Just like the start of the game, the Tigers moved the length of the field — literally this time, moving a full 99 yards — to set up a 2-yard Johnson plunge. Johnson added one more 1-yard burst early in the fourth quarter and Javaris Davis put the exclamation point on the night with a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown on the next possession. Backup quarterback Malik Willis completed the scoring with a 67-yard scoring dash with 3:04 to play.

The Tigers’ offense played its best night of the season, as Stidham connected on 13-of-16 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns while Johnson carried 23 times for 116 yards and three scores. The defense punished Fitzgerald throughout the night, limiting him to 13-of-33 passing for 157 yards with a touchdown and two interception plus 13 carries for a hard-earned 56 yards.

For Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2 SEC) the loss serves as a severe and bruising humbling. The Bulldogs were riding high after a 37-7 blowout of LSU in Starkville — a win that has aged like a sippy cup of milk left in your child’s car seat on a July afternoon — Mississippi State has lost consecutive games to top-15 opponents Georgia and Auburn by a combined score of 80-13.

This was a game that looks as we sit here five weeks into the season as a battle for the right to be the second-best team in the SEC West, and it’s clear that Auburn holds that distinction. And with a performance like this, No. 2 may not be all Auburn has to settle for.