Best Startup Program Ever?

ProDave DiPinoCo-Sports Editor

Let’s take a trip back to 2001, and Florida Atlantic University’s second game ever in Division I-A NCAA Football. After losing in their first ever game 40-7 against Slippery Rock, a game in which 9 players were deemed ineligible just prior to the game by the NCAA, the Owls traveled to Daytona Beach and beat the Bethune-Cookman College Wildcats 31-28. At the time, B-CC was ranked number 22 in Division I-A. FAU quarterback Jared Allen threw for 210 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. According to www.fausports.com, B-CC Head Coach Alvin Wyatt called the game “the worst defeat of my life.”

On August 28, 2003, the FAU Football team traveled to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and beat the NCAA Division I Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders 20-19 in what many close to Owls football believe is the greatest Florida Atlantic game ever. The game was the first time the team won a season opener and also the first ever Division I win for the Owls. In the Owls’ 22nd game of the program’s existence, the team became the fastest start from scratch program to notch a win against a Division I opponent.

Later in 2003, after starting with one win and two losses, the Owls won ten games in a row before hosting a NCAA Division I-A semifinal playoff game against Colgate. The game was televised on ESPN2 as a featured game in only the Owls’ third season of playing football. Also, FAU finished with 11 wins and three losses in 2003, and few remember the season record during the previous two losing seasons.

In the first game of the 2004 season, FAU again pulled a shocker when they traveled to the University of Hawaii and beat the Warriors 35-28 in an overtime game. Some may consider this game the greatest win ever for the Owls, but it was during a streak between 2003 and 2004 when FAU won 15 out of 16 games. Hawaii went on to a bowl game in 2004, and never scheduled FAU again.

Last but not least the fifth reason will contain two reasons: A and B.

A. The schedule that Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger has been able to pull off is absolutely amazing. This season, they are playing at National Champion Florida, Big East contender South Florida, the Big Ten’s Minnesota and SEC opponent Kentucky. 2007 will be the third year in a row they have played the Big 12’s Oklahoma State. During the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Owls played Louisville, Kansas State, Clemson, South Carolina and Kansas.

B. FAU went four wins, one loss against rival Florida International.

ConsJay WarmanCo-Sports Editor

FAU football is off to a promising start in its short, six season existence, but it is in no way the most successful start up program ever. There are a few major factors that keep it from being so: The lack of an on-campus stadium, the miniscule fan support, poor university image and downtrodden conference all keep FAU from getting the nod as the most successful start up program ever.

In fact, the Owls aren’t even the most successful start up program in the state. That title goes to the South Florida Bulls, members of the Big East Conference and owners of upsets over many worthy opponents. The Bulls play in front of large, spirited crowds at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Raymond James Stadium, just a short trip from campus. The most amazing part is USF’s football began in 1997, only 5 years before FAU. In that short time, they jumped up to the prestigious Big East Conference and have actually reached a level of success and national notoriety. This season, we get the chance to see where we stack up against USF as the Bulls travel to Lockhart Stadium for a non- conference game. Meanwhile, even FIU has surpassed FAU in efforts for an on-campus stadium. FIU has already made progress to turn its current on-campus bleachers into a permanent facility to be proud of. FAU struck out with its dome and innovation village, and now will settle for a temporary stadium in 2008 as they wait for an open air facility to be built.

Yes, FAU has had success on the field. They were Division I-AA national semi-finalists in 2003, during only their third season of existence. The next year, they pulled a major upset over Hawaii in the season opener. They have defeated FIU in four of five Shula Bowls. The move to the Sun Belt and Division I-A came rapidly. This year, the Owls should compete for the Sun Belt Championship and a bowl game berth. They have the perfect leader to take them to national prominence in Howard Schnellenberger.

With all that being said, the paltry fan support and FAU’s negative local image keep the team light-years behind USF and just ahead of FIU, who the Owls have a year head start on. USF and UCF changed their images, and now are destinations for students from all over the state; FAU has that potential with its location and proximity to the beach. A successful football team with national exposure can only help.

Becoming the most successful startup program ever starts with winning games, followed by a better conference offering an invitation. The on-campus stadium needs to be finalized, and only then can the community really rally around a home team. FAU is doing its part between the lines. Some support from the outside could catapult the Owls into the realm of USF.