Road Kill?

With the first four games on the road against top college football teams, will FAU football get run over? Or will the Owls continue their quest to become one of the most successful startup football programs in NCAA history?

An uncertain season is ahead for the Owls football team. Starting its second year of full-fledged membership in Division I football and trying to compete in the up-and-coming Sun Belt Conference, FAU is in store for a season filled with question marks. Throw into the mix home games, which have had trouble attracting needed attendance, at a stadium 25 miles from the Boca Raton campus – where the majority of the student body is – and plans for an on-campus dome stadium five years from a completion. Will the Owls be able to fight through a bit of negativity cast on them by issues, like the stadium, which they have no say in? With the inexperience of FAU’s football team it should be tough, but something great could be at the end of this season – maybe even with a bowl invitation.

The Owls will be on the prowl early with FAU’s first five games on the road. Four out of the first five games are against Big 12 conference and Southeastern Conference college football power

houses. They play five games in September from Sept. 2-30, a truly grueling start to a season. After traveling from South Carolina, to Kansas, then to Oklahoma, and back to South Carolina, the Owls open Sun Belt Conference play against Louisiana-Monroe in Louisiana.

FAU football Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger feels the tough schedule will help in building this football program to compete with the elite of college football.

“This is a plan that we have going during this transition period that we’re going through Division I-AA to Division I and becoming full-fledge members of the Sun Belt Conference,” Schnellenberger said.

After the brutal first four non-conference away games are over, the Owls will take on the Louisiana-Monroe Indians to start Sun Belt play. The match up should be a revenge payback game of sorts for FAU.

In 2004, the Owls started the season 5-0 and returned home only to be upset by the Warhawks 17-13. Last year, FAU was driving deep into Warhawk territory with less than two minutes left in the game and the score tied at 21-21. FAU quarterback Danny Embick, who was having a great game with already two passing touchdowns, was looking to throw the game winner when an Indians defender stepped in front of the pass at the five-yard line. The Louisiana-Monroe defender then returned the interception 95 yards for the game winning touchdown.

Monroe head coach Charlie Weatherbie feels FAU could be a force to reckon with in the Sun Belt.

“We’ve played some tough games against them the last two seasons,” Weatherbie commented. “I think they’re capable of winning.”

The Louisiana-Monroe loss seemed to demoralize the Owls. FAU could only scrounge up one more win in the last four games after their heartbreaking defeat to the Indians.

By the time the two play on Saturday, Sept. 30, FAU could be 0-4. They will either be hungry for a win, and a new start in Sun Belt Conference play, or the Owls will have given up early after being

pummeled by the big boys in their first four games. The determining factor will be how a young FAU football team fights through adversity and injuries it will certainly face in September and their mental and physical toughness.

Schnellenberger and his coaches believe now that they have one year of Division I football under their belt, it is important to recruit heavily in counties that until recently weren’t necessarily on FAU’s recruiting agenda. In 1979, when Schnellenberger took over as head coach at the University of Miami, he said there wasn’t much of a football team or tradition. He called his coaches into a meeting before recruiting started that season and pulled out a map of South Florida. On that map, he circled a 90-mile radius around Miami, and he called his coaches new recruiting area “the state of Miami.” Four years later those recruits, now college seniors, won the 1983 NCAA National Championship. It was the first of five national championships for Miami.

FAU’s coaches have concentrated on a focused recruiting area they call the state of South Florida, which includes the Treasure Coast.

The team has a new radio show contract and four games already slated for national and regional television. The FAU Radio Network will air every game on the 2006 schedule, originating from flagship station WJNA (640-AM) in Fort Lauderdale.

In 2005, FAU played on television for nine out of 11 games and was on ESPN twice. This year features games against Clemson on ESPNU Sept. 2, against Louisiana-Lafayette, ESPN2 Oct. 18, and Comcast Sports Southeast against rival Florida International University on Nov. 25.

Schnellenberger feels his program has to be more of a focus to the national college football audience.

“We’ve got to be visible and the way to be visible to be on the radio and television as much as we can,” Schnellenberger said.

As for play in the Sun Belt Conference, opposing football coaches feel FAU has a chance to win the title and go on to play in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 22. Reigning Sun Belt champion Arkansas State University’s Head Football Coach, Steve Roberts, feels FAU can compete for a

conference title. Roberts was really impressed with FAU’s defense when he was interviewed at the annual Sun Belt Conference Media day held in New Orleans on July 24-26.

“Defensively, FAU played us better than anyone all year,” he said.

Roberts is very happy FAU is on his university’s schedule. He says playing in South Florida will tremendously help his team’s recruiting in the next few years.

“I’m excited to play at FAU,” he said. “There coaches have done a tremendous job.”

As for their game at FAU on Oct. 28, Roberts and Arkansas State Sun Belt center Tanner Jenkins, feel the trip to Florida will be a tough test during the season.

“It’s a definite change to travel that far to play a team,” Jenkins said.

Another coach who favors the Owls chances in the Sun Belt is Louisiana-Lafayette Head Coach Ricky Bustle. He is excited about playing on ESPN2and the boost in recruiting that will help his institution in years to come.

“That’s the only game on in the country,” he said. “We’re always excited about playing on ESPN and we recruit down there in that area, so that’s a big game for us.”

During the Sun Belt Conference media days, Bustle talked at length of the importance of the game against FAU.

“They [FAU] beat us last year,” he said. “You better bring you’re A game if you want to win in this conference.”