BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — They’re expecting a big crowd at Florida Atlantic for Lane Kiffin’s first game as coach, with a sellout of the Owls’ on-campus stadium seeming like a possibility.
That would mean a crowd of about 30,000.
Let that serve as yet another example of how it’s all different for Kiffin now. FAU drew a total of 60,000 fans to its stadium for six home games last season — combined. Alabama averaged more than 100,000 for its home games a year ago, when Kiffin was offensive coordinator there. But that being said, even having sellout talk at FAU shows how much interest Kiffin is already generating in the Owls.
He makes his FAU coaching debut on Friday night, when the Owls play host to Navy.
“Is it as many people as I’m used to in the stadium? No,” Kiffin said. “But I think at the same time knowing what these players have been used to, hopefully it will be really exciting, a really electric crowd.”
This opener — really, the opening two weeks — will be no picnic for Kiffin and the Owls. Facing Navy and the triple-option offense won’t be easy, nor will going on the road next weekend to try and solve Wisconsin’s power running game. The wildly different schemes FAU will face in those first two games only add to the challenge of getting a program coming off three straight 3-9 seasons on solid footing again.
Kiffin is preaching process, and patience.
“I think that I understand the expectations are really high that we will win every game, that we would be great right away, all of a sudden just because we changed coaches,” Kiffin said. “But I think this team, what you will see is that it will improve throughout the year. You have to look at what you did. It was almost like an expansion team a little bit, as you look at so many new guys. It takes a while to jell.”
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo acknowledged that scouting for Week 1 — especially when the opponent has a new staff — is tough enough. But he lauded Kiffin, and certainly sounded like he expects the Owls to try and replicate some things that have worked for him in the past.
“You just try to do your homework, just try to do the best you can,” Niumatalolo said. “Looking at Lane’s history, phenomenal coach, been very successful many places, gotten to win national championships, been in the league … you just kind of look back at his history at Alabama, USC, Tennessee and see what you can get from there.”
Originally, this game was to be played Saturday — but got moved to Friday night to accommodate television, with the expectation that the start of the Kiffin Era at FAU will draw some eyeballs.
At least Kiffin knows what to expect from Navy, with the ground game and a penchant for not making big mistakes.
“I don’t know if it is a good thing to start with,” Kiffin said, laughing. “It means you will have a really big test right away. You are going to have to play really disciplined football because they are not going to screw it up. You are going to have to win all three phases to win this game.”
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