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Zach Pekale | NCAA.com | December 21, 2019

Florida Atlantic vs. SMU: Boca Raton Bowl prediction, time, TV channel, preview

These are the must-watch bowl games (outside of CFP) in December

Two programs, both trending upward on the heels of double-digit win seasons will play for the first time ever on Saturday when Florida Atlantic and SMU meet at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 21, in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Find a prediction, preview and more for the game below.

MORE: Complete bowl schedule, TV listings

Florida Atlantic–SMU: Boca Raton Bowl prediction, preview

The end result of 10 regular-season wins was the same for each team, but the paths of FAU and SMU looked different before intersecting.

For the Mustangs, a bid to a New Year’s Six game was the goal following a surge to No. 15 in the rankings during an 8-0 start. A 2-2 finish soured that opportunity, but coach Sonny Dykes and company still finished with the team’s most wins since 1984 and could possibly guide the program to its first bowl game win in seven years.

As for FAU, Lane Kiffin’s team rebounded from an 0-2 start in games they lost by 58 total points to win Conference USA for a second time in three seasons. The Owls went 5-2 at home this year, rewarded with a bowl game in their backyard while riding a six-game winning streak.

Except one thing is missing: Kiffin. The former Tennessee head coach has returned to the SEC after being introduced as the coach at Mississippi on Dec. 9. Though Kiffin is gone, one thing you can account for in this matchup is offense in bulk.

Points shouldn’t be hard to come by on Saturday. FAU has scored at least 30 in its past seven games and SMU has eight games of 40 or more points this season. Both teams average greater than 35 points and 400 yards per game, setting the stage for potential fireworks in south Florida.

MORE: Tracking each conference through bowl season

Shane Buechele for SMU and Chris Robison for FAU will likely be at the epicenter of the scoring for each team. After transferring from Texas, Buechele underwent a career revitalization on the Hilltop. The junior was a Maxwell Award semifinalist after throwing for 3626 yards and 33 touchdowns against nine interceptions. 

Robison went from second fiddle to an elite run game in 2018 to sharing the spotlight this year. The improvement is staggering with Robison cutting his interceptions in half from 12 to six and more than doubling his touchdowns from 12 to 26.

When both teams score as frequently as FAU and SMU do, defensive stops become even more important. For the Mustangs, that starts with the pass rush. Patrick Nelson and Delontae Scott combined for 22 sacks and 35 tackles for loss. Getting into the backfield would be key to disrupting the Owls’ offense.

The biggest momentum shift in these kinds of games are turnovers and no player in FBS had more interceptions than Meiko Dotson. His nine takeaways set the tone for the program’s single-season record of 21 interceptions. This game could come down to whoever has the ball last so one additional possession would make a significant difference.

Florida Atlantic–SMU: Boca Raton Bowl time, TV channel

Florida Atlantic and SMU play at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 21, from FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla. The game is on ABC.

Florida Atlantic-SMU: Stats, how they compare

SMU STAT/LEADER Florida Atlantic
10-2 (6-2 American) Record (Conference) 10-3 (7-1 C-USA)
43 Points per game 35.2
31.8 Points allowed 22.3
495. 3 Yards per game 443
309.33 Passing ypg 278.69
185.9 Rushing ypg 164.3
438.7 Yards allowed per game 370.3
284.92 Passing yards allowed 233.62
153.8 Rushing yards allowed 136.7
Shane Buechele
3,626 yards (33 TD, 9 INT)
Passing yards Chris Robison
3,396 yards (26 TD, 6 INT) 
Xavier Jones
1,249 yards (5.4 per att.), 21 TDs
Rushing yards Malcolm Davidson
711 yards  (7.0 per att.), 9 TDs
James Proche
1,139 yards, 14 TD
Receiving yards Harrison Bryant
1,004 yards, 7 TD
Patrick Nelson
78 total tackles, 17 tfl, 12 sacks
Defensive leader Akileis Leroy
101 tackles, 15.5 tfl, 5 FF, 3 INT

Florida Atlantic-SMU: Prediction

Florida Atlantic will have its hands full on defense between Buechele, Jones and Proche — all semifinalists for the Davey O'Brien, Doak Walker and Fred Biletnikoff Awards respectively. But by playing at home after a strong close to the season, the Owls have advantages too. For SMU, a bowl win would be its first since 2012 and wipe away the bad taste of what could potentially have been a New Year's Six appearance. As for FAU, this game could be an indication of what's to come under the next coaching regime for the program.

SMU 38, Florida Atlantic 28

MORE: National Championship history

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