Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


A Season of Firsts and Lasts

Commentary – The Owls are heading to the New Orleans Bowl to complete a historic season of firsts and lasts.

The FAU football program became the fastest to play in a bowl game, just seven seasons into its existence. Quarterback Rusty Smith became the first Owl to win Sun Belt Player of the Year as FAU captured its first conference championship.

In 2007, the Owls had their first win against a Bowl Championship Series conference opponent: the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten. They also beat Troy for the first time ever, a victory that pushed FAU football into the national spotlight.

For redshirt sophomores Smith, Willie Rose and Cortez Gent, and redshirt freshman Tavious Polo, this season was about taking the first step toward football stardom.

Coach Howard Schnellenberger had this to say after Smith led the Owls to a 30-20 comeback win over North Texas: “He is in quarterbacking 202 now; he already graduated from 101.”

And Polo continuously found himself in the right place at the right time, leading the nation in interceptions for the majority of the season and finishing with seven.

“Your eyes get real big when the ball comes your way,” Polo said. “I’ve been in the right spot all the time.”

Into this season and before, it had been all about firsts for the Owls. They became the fastest program to beat a D-I team, doing so in 2003 in just their 22nd game, against Middle Tennessee. They became the fastest team to beat a bowl team from the previous year, doing so against Hawaii in 2004.

This season, the Owls played in front of their largest home crowd ever as more than 20,000 fans crammed into Lockhart Stadium to see the Owls play the nationally ranked South Florida Bulls. It was the first time Owl Country could brag about its team. The Owls also played in front of the largest crowd ever to watch FAU, as more than 90,000 saw them hang with the defending national champ Florida Gators in the first half at the Swamp.

There were also some lasts. Schnellenberger coached his final game at the Orange Bowl in Miami, a place where his career flourished and his legend was born. He started his impeccable bowl record, now at 4-0, with the Hurricanes and was an assistant coach on the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the first and last undefeated NFL team. This season as the Owls defeated FIU, Schnellenberger won at the old Orange Bowl one more time before its pending demolition.

Senior leader Josh Pinnick played his last game for FAU when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against North Texas.

Senior starters Cergile Sincere, Taheem Acevedo, Kris Bartels and Jarrid Smith will play the last game of their careers in New Orleans on Friday. Bartels and Sincere are in their fifth season together at FAU after making the team as non-scholarship walk-ons; they have experienced the depths of defeat and now the heights of victory.

“We’ve got a lot of believers on this team,” Acevedo said after a signature Owls comeback over Louisiana Lafayette in October. “We keep on believing, keep on fighting.”

2007 was also the last year that FAU football wallowed in anonymity – locally and nationally. From now on, the Owls will be recognized throughout South Florida and across the country.

The credentials and guidance of Schnellenberger, hyped media coverage and a bowl game on national television will assure that FAU football’s first bright spotlight will definitely not be its last.

Read more New Orleans Bowl Game coverage.

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