FAU preview from AP
FAU preview from AP
BOCA RATON (AP) — When wooing recruits to Florida Atlantic, Howard Schnellenberger promises them the chance to play against some of the nation?s top programs.
??Look at our schedule,?? Owls linebacker Cergile Sincere said. ??Coach is a man of his word.??
And now, here comes the hard part.
Schnellenberger?s team opens its 2006 campaign with a daunting run of five straight road games, including trips to Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and South Carolina, all in the season?s first 22 days.
It?ll be an ultra-demanding series of early tests for a young team coming off a 2-9 season — but one that the 72-year-old coach believes will ready the Owls for whatever challenges come their way against Sun Belt Conference foes later in the year.
The thinking is simple: Any success against big-time opponents will give Florida Atlantic plenty of confidence when facing members of its own league.
??Our football team understands what we?re trying to get accomplished and they think it?s pretty neat,?? Schnellenberger said. ??And some of them even came to school here because we had this opportunity. When you?re not going for the national championship and you?re not hung up on your personal record, you can use this opportunity for some quick improvements.??
Schnellenberger — the third-oldest active coach in Division I-A, behind Penn State?s Joe Paterno and Florida State?s Bobby Bowden — is following the same play-almost-anyone, almost-anywhere mantra that he used when leading Miami and Louisville earlier in his career. He helped spark great turnarounds in both of those programs, taking the Hurricanes to the 1983 national championship and the Cardinals to their first 10-win season and a Fiesta Bowl victory seven years later.
There have been ups and downs at FAU, the program he founded and has led since its first season in 2001. Schnellenberger took the Owls to the Division I-AA semifinals in 2003 and a 9-3 record the following season, before last year?s club struggled mightily, losing five games by at least 20 points.
All part of the growing process, Schnellenberger says.
??We were pretty proud of the team last year, even though they went 2-9,?? Schnellenberger said. ??You get on teams for a lot of things, not practicing hard or making mistakes, things like that. But you can never be disappointed or embarrassed with a team like this. My God, what they?ve accomplished and what they?re doing, they don?t get hazardous duty pay like people think they should.??
Rusty Smith and Sean Clayton are splitting time in camp for the starting quarterback job; Clayton was 31-for-57 in limited action last season. Charles Pierre, last year?s leading rusher (517 yards, three touchdowns) is also back, and the offensive and defensive lines both have plenty of experience.
But the defense took a hit at the start of camp, with the announcement that senior defensive back Quincy Skinner — who had nine career interceptions — will be suspended for the entire season for an unspecified violation of team rules.
In all, there?s 42 letterwinners and 15 starters returning, meaning lessons learned in 2005 could translate into change in 2006.
??Last year wasn?t what we wanted, but there?s unlimited potential there to get better, playing some of the best teams in the country, especially with Clemson right off the bat,?? offensive lineman John Rizzo said. ??Unlimited potential, how much better it could make us. Nothing will compare to that in the Sun Belt.??
Playing an out-of-conference schedule like this isn?t a one-year experiment for the Owls, either.
They?ve already signed deals to play major programs like Florida, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Kentucky in the coming years.
??The idea, of course, is to gain the experience, gain the notoriety, gain whatever comes out of it should we win one of these games,?? Schnellenberger said. ??And we will, somewhere along the line.??
His players are eager for the chance at making the coach?s plan become reality, too.
??We have a legendary coach who knows what he?s doing,?? Sincere said. ??Everybody probably thinks he?s crazy, but I think he?s one of the best in the country. He?s given us an opportunity to play top-20 teams in the country and show the world that we can compete with anyone out there.??