(CBSDFW.com)- Sonny Dykes and the SMU Mustangs just put together a season not seen in decades, winning 10 games and earning their second bowl bid in the last three seasons, this time to the Boca Raton Bowl. But the excitement of the year died down somewhat after losses to eventual conference champion Memphis and Navy spoiled their bid at a perfect season.
Still, in Dykes’ second year, the program appears to have made significant strides forward. They rated as the seventh-best offense in FBS by points per game (43) and 27th in Bill Connelly’s SP+ metric offensively. Overall, 2019 was a very good season for SMU, as CBS 11 Dallas sports anchor Keith Russell acknowledges.
“First 10-win season since 1984. First time in the AP Top 25 since 1986. I think SMU has had a magical run, they had one until they lost their first game to Memphis this season,” said Russell.
The Mustangs peaked as high as 15th in the AP Top 25 poll before sliding out of the season-end rankings, but it was their highest mark since the 1986 team reached 18th. The biggest problem has been the defense, which in the two losses gave up over 1,000 yards and 89 points. Throughout the season, the Mustangs were involved in shootouts, with the leaky defensive unit allowing opponents to score over 31 points per outing.
That would seem to indicate another shootout in the Boca Raton Bowl, as the one thing that FAU has consistently proven on offense this year is the ability to score. The Owls rank 16th (35.3 PPG) and 56th in scoring and offensive SP+ respectively this season. Their offense largely revolves around the play of quarterback Chris Robison, who threw for over 3,300 yards and 26 touchdowns this season. Tight end Harrison Bryant has been his favorite target (65 catches 1,004 yards 7 TD), providing a mismatch against most defenses.
SMU could be without one of their top receivers in this game as junior Reggie Roberson Jr. is questionable to play after suffering a lower body injury. He was the second-leading target for Shane Buechele in the passing game this season, behind James Proche.
The teams are fairly evenly matched on offense and defense when looked at on a yards-per-play basis. SMU averaged 6.2 YPP on offense and gives up 5.7 on defense, while FAU averages 6.0 and 5.4 respectively. Those numbers would indicate a likely shootout, and the Vegas oddsmakers agree with the over/under for the game, which is set at 70.5.
One advantage that stands out to Russell is the lack of travel for FAU. The game is being played in their home stadium, meaning that they don’t even have to leave the campus in order to play in it.
“I’m taking the Owls. When you have the chance to play in your home stadium and you have that crowd support. And the other team is saying, ‘wait a minute, this is supposed to be a neutral site,’ there is nothing neutral about that,” said Russell. “I think SMU competes, but I think FAU is too much.”
While the home-field advantage at the Boca Raton Bowl does appear to be there for FAU, one major point should be considered. The Owls did undergo a coaching change, as Lane Kiffin departed to take the head coaching job at Ole Miss. Coaching changes ahead of bowl games are always a bit tricky for the team losing their head coach. That would seem to also be reflected in the odds for this game, as SMU enters as three-point favorites.
One final point to consider, the Owls are just 4-3 at home against the spread this season with two of their outright losses coming at home. So, while there could be some comfort playing in front of the home fans, the Owls have not been great covering at home.
Kick-off in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl is set for Saturday, December 21st at 2:00 p.m. CST.