In need of a Canadian Football League fix and a look at former FAU Owl Martese Jackson

At times like these a little bit of Canadian Football League action would go a long way.

Flicking through the various ESPN channels available on the basic package at our house, I found drone racing and beach volleyball and World Team Tennis the last several nights but no pro football.

Former Owl Martese Jackson breaks a tackle in FAU’s Red vs. Blue game at the school’s Boca Raton campus stadium on Saturday, April 5, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Sure, NFL training camps are about to open and there are exhibition games in August but really, what would be the harm in ESPN or FS1 picking up a little CFL just to fill in the gaps? By the time the Grey Cup championship game rolls around in late November, nobody down here will be that interested but what about now, right here, in a dead zone of sports broadcasting that features lots of MLB and the accompanying ZZZZZ’s?

Look what we’ve been missing.

Just last week a 5-foot-6 kid who played just a little at Florida Atlantic went crazy returning kicks for the Toronto Argonauts.

Martese Jackson, 25, returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown against Winnipeg. Not bad for a guy playing in his second CFL game.

Then came an 84-yard kickoff return on which Jackson was stopped short of scoring but set up a Toronto field goal all the same.

Oh, and how about the 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was negated by an illegal blocking penalty? If that one had counted, Jackson would have totaled a lot more than the 339 total return yards for which he was credited in the game, a number that ranks fourth-highest in CFL history.

What’s more, Jackson could have won a Winnipeg woman $1 million in a grocery-chain promotion offering the big payoff for a lucky contestant when two kickoffs are returned for touchdowns in the same game. Earlier that day, a Winnipeg return man had gone the distance.

See what I mean? Crazy CFL. Crazy fun.

Is there no chance that Tim Tebow won’t give this league one final try once his baseball dream dries up?

After all, the league’s leading passer is 37-year-old Ricky Ray from Sacramento State, and he’s playing in his 15th CFL season.

Get Tebow in the CFL and ESPN will be there all summer long. Or, failing that, Johnny Manziel.

[Beware these trap games for the Seminoles, Hurricanes and Gators]

[Jeffrey Loria says there is no Marlins deal so stop talking about it]

[Astros and Nats might bring World Series buzz back to WPB next spring]

In a week or two, of course, these delusions and cravings will pass. The NFL will be back, followed by college football.

In the meantime, does anybody out there get ESPN3? If I’m reading their schedule right, there’s a snippet of the Toronto-Saskatchewan game coming up there late Monday night and it sure would be cool to catch a glimpse of Jackson.

At FAU the Asheville, N.C., native never really rang the bell for former coaches Carl Pelini and Charlie Partridge, scoring one career touchdown on a total of 70 rush attempts, five receptions and 22 kick returns.

In Canada, though, they’re not selling him as an Owl, but as an exciting new star with the nickname of the Martese Falcon.

 

 

 

Let Lane Kiffin be your guide to healthier, happier living

I finally found something Lane Kiffin is doing at Florida Atlantic in the same way that former Owls coach Charlie Partridge did it.

On Saturday, March 18, Kiffin is scheduled to appear at Mizner Park Amphitheater in downtown Boca Raton as part of WPEC’s annual Health and Wellness Experience.

BOCA RATON – Lane Kiffin, head coach of Florida Atlantic University football, shakes hands with Spanish River football coach Bill Ceasar at FAU Stadium on December 13, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

This is purely community relations stuff. It’s an event free to the public featuring cooking demonstrations and glucose screenings and vendor exhibits, with everything geared toward educating families on the healthiest options available to them.

No recruiting advantage to a head coach showing up there, in other words, just a chance to meet and greet some of the locals and maybe encourage them to come out and watch a football game or two at FAU’s beautiful new stadium.

Partridge was good at this, working the FAU Coach’s Corner at the wellness festival while kids ran cone drills and tackled dummies and threw footballs at targets. If Kiffin is up for a little bit of that duty, and he’s scheduled to be there from 1 to 1:30 p.m., that’s a good thing.

It will highlight the FAU program for potential ticket-buyers with the beginning of spring practice just around the corner on March 21. There’s the FAU spring game to promote, too. That’s scheduled for April 22.

[No reason Heat should be doing what they’re doing, and the ride’s not over]

[NCAA berths weren’t automatic for UM during Rick Barry’s golden era]

[Reliving Wilt’s 100-point night, with two PB County eyewitnesses]

Too many people in South Florida are unaware that Div. I college football is even happening in Boca Raton. If Kiffin, the former head coach of USC and Tennessee and the Oakland Raiders, doesn’t already know that, he needs to know. Interactions with the general public, not just FAU boosters, can only help in that regard.

The question now is who will be the biggest celebrity at Mizner Park that day as measured by the size of the crowds around them. Could be Kiffin. Could be Kevin Frazier, the co-host of Entertainment Tonight, who also is scheduled to appear.

Remember, this is Boca Raton, not Tuscaloosa, where working as offensive coordinator was more than enough to make Kiffin a major star with Alabama fans. The answer is not immediately obvious.

 

 

 

What Schnellenberger saw coming in 1998 almost happened for FAU at the Swamp

They probably don’t want to hear it right now but it needs to be said.

Congratulations to the Florida Atlantic Owls for pushing the No. 8 Florida Gators to the absolute limit Saturday.

 

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 21: Head coaches Jim McElwain of the Florida Gators and Charlie Partridge of the Florida Atlantic Owls shake hands after the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL – NOVEMBER 21: Head coaches Jim McElwain of the Florida Gators and Charlie Partridge of the Florida Atlantic Owls shake hands after the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

What could have been the greatest game in Owls history turned into just another close call, this time in overtime, but you know what? I’m calling it the greatest game anyway, or at least a close second to that landmark 2007 New Orleans Bowl victory over Memphis.

When Howard Schnellenberger birthed FAU football, it was with moments exactly like that thriller at the Swamp in mind.

It seemed silly when Howard popped up in Boca Raton in 1998 with talk of a team that didn’t yet exist competing one day on a straight-up basis with the Gators and FSU Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes for control of Sunshine State loyalties.

College football, however, is built for dreams and dreamers.

If you had just dropped in on the Swamp Saturday with no prior information on these teams, it would have seemed impossible that the Gators are playing for the SEC championship in a couple of weeks. They didn’t look up to winning the Conference USA title.

[Better find a coach who majors in defense because all of UM’s title teams sure did]

[FSU won’t play for the ACC title this year but do you realize just how rare that is?]

[Learning from the Big Three and the Heat’s ugly 9-8 start five years ago]

As for the Owls, 2-9 is the last record you would have guessed. Coach Charlie Partridge has done everything with this team but teach it how to win. It’s got to be coming soon, right?

This weeks Florida-FSU game may be an entirely different matter, with all the emotion that the Gators didn’t bring to their meeting with FAU. For now, though, it doesn’t make much sense worrying about where Florida winds up in Tuesday’s new College Football Playoff rankings.

Without a reliable quarterback and a serviceable kicker, there can be no national championship run. It’s a tribute to coach Jim McElwain that Florida has squeezed 10 wins out a team with such obvious flaws.

Now wait and see if the Owls don’t go out and lose their season finale at Old Dominion and have us all scratching our heads again.

No legendary upset for FAU, but plenty of upset Miami fans just the same

 

Miami will try to forget the 44-20 win it picked up Friday night. Florida Atlantic will long remember the loss, and fondly, for the most part.

It shouldn’t add up that way, not when the scoreboard shows one team to be 24 points better than the other. The biggest game in FAU football history was bound to turn a lot of things upside-down, however, beginning with the notion that Boca Raton could never really be the most fascinating spot on the college football map, even for an instant.

Well, it was Friday, and maybe it will be again. Anything’s possible when the Owls and Hurricanes can be on even footing in the third quarter, tied 20-20, and that’s with a raft of FAU blunders mixed in. Miami coach Al Golden sure didn’t see that coming, or if he did there was no convincing his players of its possibility.

Florida Atlantic Owls quarterback Jason Driskel (16) calls a play against the Miami Hurricanes at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on September 11, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Florida Atlantic Owls quarterback Jason Driskel (16) calls a play against the Miami Hurricanes at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on September 11, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

This 30,321-seat FAU Stadium sellout, a first, was the smallest crowd Miami’s seen in two years. This Conference USA opponent, no matter how game, was barely a blip on the schedule with Nebraska coming up next week for the Hurricanes.

So Miami came out mentally sloppy, struggling to get players in position before the snap, slipping off ballcarriers they should have been burying, getting the least out of their considerable talent. Even with a first-quarter lightning delay that sent both teams back to the locker room it took too long to recognize that the Owls were treating them like rivals and not royalty.

None of this reflects well on Golden, who is in his fifth season of displeasing a Miami fan base that grew up on national titles and has no interest in anything else. Friday was ugly for him, and no stack of second-half stats can alter that.

FAU’s Charlie Partridge, on the other hand, played the part that every coach in his position must play. He was the fourth-down gambler, the screaming motivator, the hurry-up salesman who was all ready to go for a two-point conversion in the first quarter until an antsy false-start penalty pushed his guys back.

All that stuff is fine, but nobody really expects it to work beyond the frenzied opening minutes. The Owls, 47-44 losers to Tulsa last week, showed more stamina than that.

Even with starting quarterback Jacquez Johnson knocked out of the game with an ankle injury, they kept coming, and the FAU student section kept stomping on those aluminum bleachers, and all over the nation viewers tuned in to see what all the fuss was about.

Turnovers, five of them in all for FAU, helped to restore order beginning in the third quarter, but even then the Hurricanes were limited too often to field goals. Golden’s guys pulled away, sure. Partridge’s emphasis as FAU moves past this landmark moment will be how the Hurricanes got pushed around a little, too.

The Owls averaged 5.8 yards per play, after all, and punted only twice. Jason Driskel, the redshirt freshman who wasn’t supposed to play, completed 17-of-30 passes and looked sharp until a crazy comeback attempt forced him into dangerous throws and two interceptions. The Owls rushed for 223 yards as well, a bullheaded effort led by 132 yards and a touchdown from Jay Warren.

That brought the buzz back to a stadium that was forced into sleep mode by a lightning delay of more than an hour. That’s about the time it took for the Hurricanes to make the commute from Coral Gables to the game, and they probably would have preferred to get right back on the bus if nobody cared.

Fox Sports 1, the network that positioned this game on a Friday night, also seemed less than committed. Its play-by-play was done from a studio in Los Angeles, for crying out loud. Wasn’t worth their trouble? Wasn’t worth a few South Florida cigars on Dave Wannstedt’s expense account?

Remote control is no way to work a ballgame. It’s like turning it into Madden football. It’s like pretending it doesn’t really count, from the high-school night kickoff to the supposed mismatch between a five-time national championship program and an FAU outfit still in its teen years when it comes to longevity.

Did Miami’s players approach the game with those faulty assumptions in mind? Sure looked like it in the first half, when the Owls racked up more yards (292-231) and went 5-for-8 on third down. Even with a lost fumble and a muffed punt return, FAU built momentum.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, popped a few big plays, like Joe Yearby’s 34-yard touchdown catch and 41-yard run, and expected that would be enough to pop the Owls’ party balloon, too.

That eventually happened, but much later, after Miami’s depth and open-field speed finally showed itself and after viewers in other states turned off the tube and headed for bed.

If FAU could recruit stars like Yearby, who rushed for 146 yards, or Herb Waters, who had 102 yards in receptions, the biggest game in Owls history might also have been the best.

The Owls aren’t there yet, but they did remind the nation that they are here, in Boca, in business, working on a competitive program in a stadium ringed by palm trees and visited, on this special occasion, by Joe Namath and Jim Kelly.

That’s a win any way you slice it, and that’s what Howard Schnellenberger has been saying all along.