FAU entered the Boca Raton Bowl without its coach, its three leading receivers (including Mackey Award-winning tight end Harrison Bryant), and its leading tackler on defense. As a result, not many people gave the Owls much of a shot at beating an SMU team that entered the game with 10 wins this season. So, of course, the Owls not only won, but blew out the Mustangs, 52-28.
The absence of Bryant and Lane Kiffin had been known for a while, but it was on Friday night that FAU announced linebacker Akileis Leroy and receivers Deangelo Antoine and Tavaris Harrison had been suspended for academic reasons. The suspensions saw a point spread that had SMU favored by three points for weeks suddenly climb to eight, but none of it mattered. The Owls dominated the game from start to finish to pull off one of the biggest surprises of the opening weekend of bowl season.
FAU quarterback Chris Robison decided the best way to handle not having his three favorite targets available was to spread the ball around. Robison connected with six different receivers, completing 27 of his 37 passes and finishing with 305 yards and two touchdowns.
As for SMU, an offense that came into the game averaging 43 points and 495.3 yards per game on the season didn't come close to reaching those totals. QB Shane Buechele, who led the American Athletic Conference in passing yards during the regular season, struggled for the most part. He finished with 303 yards passing and a touchdown, but the score came late in the game when the outcome had long been decided. At least he had a chance to live every coach's dream while trying to make a play on a Florida Atlantic fumble recovery.
The referee, Kyle Olson, was OK.
FAU finishes the season with a record of 11-3, matching the best record in program history that it set in 2017 during Kiffin's first season at the school. SMU finishes at 10-3, and while it's not how the Mustangs wanted the season to end, the 10 wins are the most the program has had in a season since 1984.