Florida Atlantic stars Devin Singletary, Azeez Al-Shaair honored by Touchdown Club of Columbus

BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin has talked about wanting to turn the Owls into a “national program.” Two of Kiffin’s best players, at least for one night, helped the coach make some progress in his goal.

Star running back and reigning Conference USA MVP Devin Singletary (Delray-American Heritage) and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, both of whom were first-team All-CUSA players this past season, were honored by the 63rd Touchdown Club of Columbus Awards as players to watch in 2018. Singletary led Division I with 32 rushing touchdowns and finished 80 yards shy of 2,000 as a true sophomore, while Al-Shaair finished third in the nation and led C-USA with 146 tackles.

“I would like to thank the Touchdown Club for inviting me to Columbus,” Singletary said through a university spokesperson. “I also want to thank them for labeling me as a player to watch in 2018.”

Singletary, who became the first Owls player in program history to be named an All-American, inspired a Heisman campaign throughout the season with his record-setting numbers. As FAU fans jumped on the #Motor4Hei5man movement, Singletary ran for more touchdowns in a single season than previous program leader Alfred Morris did from 2008-11. Morris had 27 touchdowns before becoming a sixth-round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2012.

Al-Shaair, a former USA Today All-American Freshman in 2015, surpassed Frantz Joseph as the leading tackler in program history in the Boca Raton Bowl and announced immediately after the 50-3 win that he would return to FAU for his senior season.

Singletary joined Justice Hill (Oklahoma State), Benny Snell Jr. (Kentucky), Alexander Mattison (Boise State), David Montgomery (Iowa State) and Darrell Henderson (Memphis) as running backs who were honored. Al-Shaair was one of three defensive players honored alongside Nick Bosa (Ohio State) and Buffalo Bulls linebacker Khalil Hodge.

FAU men’s basketball facing must-win stretch against key rivals

BOCA RATON — In the midst of its most successful season under fourth-year coach Michael Curry, the Florida Atlantic men’s basketball team again faces a must-win, three-game stretch.

Is Curry — who will set a personal-high in single-season wins (11) at FAU with the team’s next victory — thinking about the possibilities the next three games can create?

“Got Southern Miss [on Saturday night] and we’ll try to beat Southern Miss here,” Curry said after FAU’s 67-62 loss to La. Tech on Thursday. “That’s it. You win tonight and think about the other three and lose the other three, what does it matter?”

FAU (10-12, 4-6 in Conference USA) will host Southern Miss (11-12, 4-6) on Saturday before road matchups with Western Kentucky (8-1, 16-6) and Marshall (5-4, 14-8) next week. Though the Owls would make their third straight C-USA tournament under Curry if the season ended today, the upcoming three-game slate pits FAU against two teams that have had its number in recent memory.

Since Curry’s hire in April 2014, FAU is a combined 2-8 against Western Kentucky and Marshall, with both of those wins coming in the 2014-15 season against the Thundering Herd. In their last four games against Marshall, FAU has lost by an average of nearly 18 points, though three of the four losses to Western Kentucky have been within two scores.

FAU has had some success against Southern Miss, however — the Owls are 2-2 against them and have won their past two matchups – including a key win against the Golden Eagles last February during a season-changing, three-game winning streak which also included victories over FIU and Charlotte. If the Owls are serious about making their fourth year under Curry their best, taking down Southern Miss. on Saturday night (7 p.m., FAU Arena) would be a good start.

Ingram continues to improve: Though Jailyn Ingram hasn’t had the high-profile success of senior teammates Ronald Delph and Gerdarius Troutman, the sophomore forward has quietly been efficient over the past month. Ingram’s average of 9.5 points per game in C-USA play this season is more than two points above last year (7.3), as the second-year forward is hitting 41 percent of his shots compared to 39 percent as a freshman.

Ingram ranks fourth on the team in field-goal percentage since conference play began and enjoyed one of his stronger nights this season on Thursday, with his 16 points representing his most since scoring 18 against NAIA Edward Waters on Nov. 16. Thursday was only the third time this season Ingram has posted 12 or more points after doing so six times as a freshman.

“I thought he had a matchup situation in the post and we were able to get him some post-ups,” Curry said. “It was good to see the ball go through the bucket for him.”

Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic gain advantage as C-USA rivals lose key players

Florida Atlantic Owls senior running back Gregory Howell Jr. (9) breaks off a big run against Bethune Cookman Wildcats in Boca Raton, Florida on September 16, 2017. Howell is one of several key FAU players who will not be back in 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — As Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin continues recruiting potential impact players to South Florida, the second-year Owls coach can take pleasure in one thing.

Unlike some of FAU’s Conference USA rivals, the Owls’ depth at positions of loss should keep Kiffin’s team in contention for a second consecutive conference title. After closing its first season under Kiffin on a 10-game winning streak and having earned top-25 votes in both the AP and Coaches Polls, FAU is losing over 20 players from its 2017 C-USA championship roster.

That’s not to say FAU isn’t losing any important players. Three of the Owls’ starting offensive linemen have exhausted their eligibility, as have running back Buddy Howell, wide receivers Kalib Woods and Kamrin Solomon, and defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni.

FAU will also have to address its quarterback situation, as 2017 starters Jason Driskel (retirement) and ex-Dwyer star Daniel Parr (transfer) are no longer on the roster. Former Oklahoma recruit Chris Robison is the likely front-runner in a quarterback battle that could also feature former Florida Mr. Football Award winner De’Andre Johnson.

However, Kiffin still returns a notable cast that includes All-American running back Devin Singletary (American Heritage), dynamic wide receiver Willie Wright, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and safety Jalen Young (Seminole Ridge). Singletary, Al-Shaair and Young were all captains in 2017 and each made the all-conference first team.

Two other first team all-conference players — offensive tackle Reggie Bain and cornerback Shelton Lewis — will each be back for their senior seasons. Second-team tight end Harrison Bryant also will look to build upon a strong sophomore season that saw him finish with five receiving touchdowns.

Some of FAU’s conference rivals will not be as fortunate. FAU’s eight C-USA opponents next year are losing a total of 13 players who made either the all-conference first or second team.

Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White is a potential NFL draft pick, joining tight end Deon Yelder and wide receiver Nacarius Fant among those leaving the Hilltoppers. In addition, junior first-team all-conference linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe declared early for the draft.

Marshall quarterback Chase Litton announced earlier this month that he too will declare early for the draft, meaning the Thundering Herd will have to replace both their three-year starting quarterback and their all-conference tight end Ryan Yurachek (47 catches and nine touchdowns). Rising junior Garet Morrell started two games for the Herd in 2016 and is the only quarterback on the roster to have thrown a pass at the FBS level.

When FIU hosts FAU in the Shula Bowl this November, the Golden Panthers will be without their three most dangerous offensive players. Quarterback Alex McGough, running back Alex Gardner and wide receiver Thomas Owens have all exhausted their eligibility.

North Texas loses senior running back Jeffery Wilson, though gunslinging quarterback and reigning C-USA Offensive Player of the Year Mason Fine will return for his junior season. Though Louisiana Tech loses all-conference senior cornerback Secdrick Cooper, Bulldogs defensive lineman Jaylon Ferguson decided against the NFL and will stay for his senior season.

The losses don’t only affect the teams FAU will face in conference play. When FAU starts its 2018 season in Norman, Oklahoma, the Owls won’t have to deal with 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, a projected first-round pick in April’s draft.

FAU will close non-conference play against self-proclaimed national champion Central Florida, which lost head coach Scott Frost to Nebraska. Five of the Knights’ nine all-conference first-teamers will not be on next year’s roster either due to graduation or early entry into the NFL Draft.