OPINION: FAU’s football season won’t end with a bowl game, but fans should be encouraged nonetheless

Wesley Wright

FAU sits on a 6-6 record after winning its fourth straight game, a 21-6 triumph over rival Florida International.

The record is impressive — given that former head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis resigned in late October after two witnesses claimed the men used marijuana and cocaine. Pelini was absolved of all drug use allegations, but eventually had his contract terminated because of a “failure to supervise his staff.”

Then-offensive coordinator Brian Wright took over for Pelini as interim head coach just three days before the Nov. 2 game versus Tulane. Under Wright, the Owls have outscored their opponents 151-40 in their last four games.

The resiliency this team has shown is admirable. With so much disarray, the team could have come out flat against Tulane. Wright led the Owls to a resounding 34-17 win over the Green Wave, then took care of his last three opponents in short order.

Initially, I rejoiced Friday evening, thinking that there had to be a way that Conference USA could find a bowl for this team somewhere. A team that won four straight games under a brand new coach who seems to have galvanized them — a hot team.

Unfortunately, every team that is eligible for a bowl will not be awarded a bowl bid. FAU is the only six win team in the Conference USA. There is one seven win team — Tulane. It may be the team keeping us out of a bowl this year. It hurts, I know.

Tulane has lost three of its last four games — including the FAU loss — and that will be considered when the committees for each bowl distribute their bids. For each bowl, there is a committee that looks to create an appealing matchup.

When selecting a team for a specific bowl, the respective committees take into account the teams’ record, geography (where the school is located in relation to where the bowl is located) and where the team finished within its conference.

According to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, Tulane is projected to end up in the New Orleans Bowl, which will take place on Dec. 21.

FAU is a hot team. It also beat Tulane head to head, and Tulane has lost three games down the stretch. Why not place the Owls into the bowl Tulane was projected for?

It isn’t that easy. Typically, six win teams are not selected for bowls at the expense of seven win teams from the same conference.

Consider these facts:

  1. Tulane travels well, meaning alumni and fans do not mind going to games all over the country. In contrast, FAU fails to fill its stadium weekend after weekend. The bowl committees are trying to fill seats at each bowl game. There is no reason to think the FAU fanbase is strong enough or extensive enough to do that.

  2. All of FAU’s losses are to bowl-eligible teams. This could be seen as a strength by some, but remember that FAU has just one win over a bowl eligible team this year. Tulane, by comparison, has three.

  3. Tulane is ahead in the most important category: wins. Its body of work trumps ours.

Here’s the most frustrating part: FAU shouldn’t even have six wins. It should have more.

This team led Marshall, who finished this year 9-3, by nine points with ten minutes remaining. Should FAU have finished off the Thundering Herd when they had the chance?

Yes.

This Owl team also led Rice, who finished 9-3, by eight points with under five minutes remaining. Should FAU have left Houston with the win?

Yes.

This team should have eight (maybe even nine!) wins, and if it did, there would be no doubt regarding whether or not it would be awarded a bowl bid.

What two teams are playing for the Conference USA title on Saturday, Dec. 7?

You guessed it: Marshall and Rice.

Those games are in the past now, though. As it stands, the Owls have played .500 football: six wins, six losses.

It remains to be seen if they have impressed the powers that are enough to warrant an invitation to a bowl.

As of yesterday, there are 77 bowl eligible teams vying for 35 bowl games. The number of bowl eligible teams could reach as high as 80 after three late games on Dec. 7.

Many bowls have arrangements with a conference, meaning that the bowl matchup will be constituted of two teams from two different conferences.

The New Orleans Bowl, for example, places the team that finished first in the Sun Belt (which this year is Louisiana-Lafayette) against a Conference USA team of the committee’s choice — most likely Tulane.

Of the four bowls that do not have stipulations for the conference that both teams must come from, two have prior C-USA tie-ins. With the exception of the BCS championship, two teams from the same conference cannot face each other in a bowl game.

That leaves three bowls — the AvoCare Bowl, the Little Caesar’s Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl — as possible places for the Owls to end up. The Poinsettia Bowl (located in San Diego)  is unlikely. Based on geography, FAU will not bring the amount of fans that bowl committee would like to see in the stands.

Several programs are within one game of securing bowl eligibility.  Rutgers and Southern Methodist University can still reach six wins. Mississippi State, Syracuse and Oregon State all became bowl eligible this past weekend. Given the chance, those programs would be selected over Florida Atlantic because their names carry more weight.

Even so, supporters shouldn’t need a bowl game to feel optimistic about where the FAU program is headed.

The Owls managed to double their wins from last season. If Pat Chun awards Wright the head coaching job (Wright is still an interim at the moment), players will come back next year to the same system under which the team has flourished this season.

Talented players are returning. Jaquez Johnson, who was responsible for ten total touchdowns in Owls last four games,  will return and may have an even better feel for this offensive system.

So will his most talented receiver, William Dukes. Dukes had 553 yards and six touchdowns this season, and will be the first option for Johnson next year.

Jay Warren, a true freshman running back, is a tough, physical runner that averaged almost 5 yards a carry this year. He was impressive in his backup role behind Jonathan Wallace, who will be graduating.

Team captain and linebacker Andrae Kirk has enjoyed a terrific season with 84 tackles.

Cornerback DJ Smith finished the regular season with seven interceptions, good enough for second in the country.

Safety Damian Parms has done a masterful job anchoring the back end of the Owl defense.

Defensive linemen Brandin Bryant plays well down the stretch and will bolster the defensive line, which will have many new faces next year.

If the team does miss out on postseason play — and it’s looking like they just might — take solace in the fact that this program is absolutely moving in the right direction.