BOCA RATON, Fla. — After leading the nation in touchdowns last season, Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary got a gift from Owls coach Lane Kiffin.
It was a book. The title: "Ego is the enemy."
Kiffin said the book worked wonders on him, and he's hoping the same rings true with his leading rusher. Singletary's 32 touchdowns on the ground in 2017 was the third-best single-season total by anyone in major college football history, and he — along with his big-name coach, of course — are two of the biggest reasons why the Owls were the runaway pick to repeat as Conference USA champions this season.
Singletary read the book. It seems to be working.
"Every day, you've got to come to work and put in the work to make it happen," Singletary said.
Kiffin might want to try to keep Singletary's head the same size it was a year ago, but FAU officials don't mind seeing it a little larger than before. The school commissioned a billboard over the summer to tout Singletary's chances at getting into the Heisman Trophy race — and Kiffin said he's comfortable with that because Singletary won't be fazed.
"I am because of who is he is," said Kiffin, who used his Twitter platform to push for Singletary to get some Heisman attention last season when he and the Owls were rolling along to the C-USA title and an 11-3 season. "Been fortunate to be around this a lot. Been around four of them who won it. I think it depends on the kid. They asked me about it, it wasn't my idea, and I said because of who he is, he can understand."
Many things have changed in a hurry in Boca Raton. Kiffin's first season resulted in two more wins than the Owls had gotten in the previous three seasons combined — they were 3-9 in 2014, 2015 and 2016. FAU started getting tons of national attention, first because of Kiffin's presence and the story line of the former Oakland, USC and Tennessee head coach essentially starting over in obscurity at a program that had struggled for years.
But the wins started piling quickly, and FAU is considered by many observers as a team that could reach the national rankings this fall. Kiffin, however, is insisting that the success of last year won't help at all this year.
"Just like 3-9 had nothing to do with going 11-3, 11-3 is going to have nothing to do with this season," Kiffin said. "Every season is a season of its own. That's why every team in America doesn't improve every year, because every team's new."
Here's some of what to know about FAU going into 2018:
Put simply, it's tough. FAU opens the season Sept. 1 at Oklahoma, a game where the Owls have been listed as a three-touchdown underdog. FAU's other road nonconference game is Sept. 21 at UCF, which went 13-0 last season. Air Force and Bethune-Cookman are the other nonconference games for the Owls, who went 9-0 in C-USA games last season. A potential stumbling block — at C-USA finalist North Texas, on Nov. 15, a short week for FAU.
Conference USA's preseason player of the year probably could have broken Barry Sanders' record of 37 rushing TDs last season if Kiffin was so inclined. Singletary didn't even get rolling until Week 4, after having two rushing touchdowns in the Owls' first three games. And he was held under 20 carries in six of FAU's 13 contests last season.
YOUTH IS SERVED
Kiffin was the youngest coach in modern NFL history when he was hired to coach the Raiders. He knows age is just a number. Kiffin hired 25-year-old Charlie Weis Jr. to be the team's offensive coordinator. Kiffin raves about Weis, but it's unclear if Kiffin will actually allow him to call plays when the season rolls around.
Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair gave FAU a big boost when he announced after the Boca Raton Bowl (a 50-3 FAU rout of Akron) that he was returning for his senior season. Al-Shaair led the Owls with 147 tackles last season, and he's been a leader on and off the field. He should be playing on Sundays in 2019.
FAU enters the season on a 10-game winning streak, after starting 1-3 a year ago. The only longer streak in the country is UCF's 13-game run to a perfect season in 2017.