Boca Raton Bowl Pick: SMU vs. Florida Atlantic
SMU Mustangs (10-2 SU, 7-5 ATS) vs. Florida Atlantic Owls (10-3 SU, 9-4 ATS)
When: Saturday, December 21, 3:30 p.m. EST
Where: FAU Football Stadium, Boca Raton, Fla.
Point Spread: SMU -3/FAU +3 (Bookmaker)
Total: O/U 70.5
It’s not often that you get a pair of 10-win squads in one of the early bowl games, but that’s what we’ve got here as SMU and Florida Atlantic will play on the Owls’ home turf. In fact, this marks the second time in three years that Florida Atlantic will play a bowl in its home stadium, as it won the Boca Raton Bowl in 2017. However, the Owls are going to have to do this without coach Lane Kiffin, who has already left for his new job at Mississippi. Can Florida Atlantic overcome the loss of its head coach and earn another bowl win, or has it met its match in a very talented SMU squad?
How the Public is Betting the SMU/Florida Atlantic Game
The line has swung slightly to Florida Atlantic, dropping from 3.5 points to 3 points. The point total has also dropped, from 72 to 70.5.
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Wide receiver Reggie Roberson Jr. is questionable with a lower-body injury.
Florida Atlantic reports no new injuries since September.
When SMU Has the Ball
The Pony Express can go on the ground, or it can take to the sky. SMU has made its name off a lot of offense this season. Much of it has come from the legs of Xavier Jones and the arm of Shane Buechele. Buechele has been an outstanding decision make this season, tossing for 33 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. However, his weapon list could be a bit limited in this game, as Reggie Roberson might not be able to play in this contest.
If he misses the game, look for Florida Atlantic to focus all of its attention on James Proche. Actually, the Owls might do that anyway. Proche has 14 touchdowns and 1,139 receiving yards for the year, and his 102 catches represent more than a third of all of SMU’s completions. When SMU chooses to take to the ground, Xavier Jones is a reliable back who has 21 scores and 1,249 rushing yards to his name. In short, this is a fantastic offense that nobody has been able to figure out all year, and the best way to slow them down is really to keep them off the field with your own offense — something Florida Atlantic has the ability to do.
When Florida Atlantic Has the Ball
Florida Atlantic isn’t great on the ground, but it doesn’t need to be great on the ground with the progression that Chris Robison has made this season. The one-time Oklahoma signal-caller has grown up this season and tossed 26 touchdowns against six interceptions, and he’s yet to throw more than one interception in the same game this year. When he throws, his main target is likely Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant, who led all Florida Atlantic receivers with 65 catches for 1,004 yards, strong numbers for a wideout but remarkable ones for a tight end. Deangelo Antoine and John Mitchell also provide solid targets for Robison, as each has hauled in five touchdowns this season. On the ground, Malcolm Davidson is the leader, but FAU hasn’t run it successfully all season. The Owls’ strength instead is letting Robison and the receivers make plays, which they have done very well.
Florida Atlantic might be down its coach, but it is coming in hot. The Owls have covered in five of their past six games, and they’ve put up at least 30 points in 10 of their previous 11 games, with the only exception being a 28-13 win over Middle Tennessee. That’s one reason the line is so high, as nobody has been able to stop SMU this season. The Mustangs’ lowest scoring total was 28 points at Navy, bot otherwise, they’ve hit at least 34 points in every game they’ve played. However, SMU hasn’t been great about covering the spread as of late. Other than its season finale win over Tulane, the rest of SMU’s final five games were decided by eight points or less, including a win over a bad East Carolina squad at home. The Mustangs were just 1-4 ATS in those contests, not exactly the way that you want a team to enter the bowl season.
A thunderstorm is always possible in Palm Beach County (I know from past experience), and there’s one in the cards for Saturday, with temperatures at 76 degrees.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
The one real spot of hesitation for me in taking Florida Atlantic is the loss of Kiffin on the sidelines. Say what you will about his Twitter demeanor, but he’s proven to be a strong leader who has gotten the most out of his players in Boca Raton. However, Glenn Spencer is the interim coach for the Owls, and reports from FAU beat writer Jake Elman of the Palm Beach Post confirm that Florida Atlantic players want to give him a win in his one game in charge before Willie Taggart takes over the program. Throw in that the Owls are at home, and the Mustangs aren’t quite the same team that they were a month ago, and I’ve got to give the edge to Florida Atlantic for the cover.
I think the best bet on the board is probably the over, but I’d also be willing to gamble on the Owls covering in a game that they have a chance to win outright.