(CBSMiami)- This year’s Shula Bowl, the annual meeting between Florida Atlantic and Florida International appears a bit anticlimactic. The Owls enter 3-1 while the Panthers have struggled out of the gates going 0-3 and having four games postponed and one canceled due to COVID-19.
That interruption of the schedule has been the new normal this season, and it can make it tough to find consistency as CBS Sports Network’s Brent Stover points out.
“I think we’re just kind of seeing a down year. I think 2020, and I’m not making excuses for his program, but I think we’ve seen it from the very top of college football on down, it is tough to maintain consistency. Some of the teams we thought would be very good have struggled out of the gate and some of the teams you wondered, ‘oh it might be a down season’ have done really well,” said Stover. “And I think a lot of it has to do with who’s able to physically and mentally deal with playing college football through a pandemic. I don’t want to in any way say throw out 2020 but it does even the playing field a lot. And when you get off to a tough start, which they have, there becomes a huge mental impact. I feel like the talent is there.”
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The biggest problems for the Panthers have been the passing game on offense (92.7 yards per game) and the run defense (allowing 213.3 yards per game). The offensive struggles don’t bode well going against the Owls whose defense is allowing the third-fewest points per game in the country (11.5). But, FAU’s offense has had it’s own issues moving the ball, ranking below FIU in scoring averaging just 16 points per game, which has surprised Stover thus far.
“Willie Taggart is one of my favorite coaches in the country. I know things didn’t work out at Florida State, but he’s had success and turned around programs everywhere else. It is a little shocking to see him only averaging 16 points per game in four games which is down 98 spots from last year. You knew there would be a bit of a transition from Lane Kiffin to Willie Taggart,” said Stover. “But, I would flip it and say the fact that they’re off to a 3-1 start and their offense is struggling, I think they’re going to get it figured out and in the back half of the season I wouldn’t be shocked at all for them to click offensively.”
This could be the game in which the Owls offense begins to click. FIU has struggled to stop opponents thus far this year allowing over 28 points and 450 yards per game. For Stover, he’s expecting the first half to be a bit of a grind before FAU pulls away in the second half.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with FAU and how good their defense has been this year. I’m expecting it to be a grind it out defensive battle for the first half but I think in the second half FAU will pull away and end up winning this game by a couple of touchdowns.”
Not surprisingly, FAU enters tonight’s game 9.5 point favorites. Kick-off is set for 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS Sports Network.