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FAU's Sentinel, Post & Boca News articles

Big game for winless Owls

Victory tonight vs. La.-Monroe could have title implications

By Ted Hutton
Staff Writer
Posted September 22 2005

Florida Atlantic is 0-3 heading into its first conference game tonight.

But never fear – FAU is in the Sun Belt, which was ranked at the bottom of the 11 Division I-A conferences three of the past four years and dwells there three games into this season.

This is a conference where only five teams have had winning records since it was formed in 2001, and the eight teams are combined 4-18 so far this season, with three of those wins over Division I-AA teams.

So a win tonight at Lockhart Stadium over Louisiana-Monroe would mean that as young and inexperienced as the Owls are, they could be in contention for the conference title this season.

While the chance to compete so early is a plus, it comes with stigma of being a member of a bottom-dwelling conference.

"Clearly we are down there," FAU Athletic Director said about the Sun Belt's status in I-A.

"We'd like our conference to be better. But right now we are a developing conference. We have two teams that haven't even shaved yet [FAU and Florida International], and others that are new as well," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "We are where we are and proud of it."

FAU came into the Sun Belt as part of shotgun wedding.

The NCAA was holding the gun, with new regulations stating that to be in I-A, a conference needed eight teams, and other scheduling rules that made it impossible to survive as a I-A independent.

While the Sun Belt had ignored FAU's overtures in 2002, that was before the massive reshuffling among conferences touched off by Miami jumping to the Atlantic Coast.

The Sun Belt suddenly found it would be down to six teams by 2005, and FAU and FIU were ushered in.

"The sun and the moon and the stars all aligned themselves at the time when they needed eight teams and we needed a conference, and we are very fortunate to get in the Sun Belt," FAU Athletic Director Craig Angelos said.

The Sun Belt is comprised of teams that are relatively new to I-A, after moving up from I-AA. All have small budgets and small stadiums when compared to the major conferences, and all lack of success against teams from those conferences.

Most also are struggling to balance their athletic budget and attract fans.

"We all have some challenges from a financial standpoint, and we are all trying to grow our budgets," said Louisiana-Monroe Athletic Director Billy Staub. "The bottom line is we are in the best neighborhood [I-A] for football."

ULM has never had a winning season in its 11 in I-A. It is 2-33 against teams from BCS conferences, with those wins over Kentucky and Mississippi State.

"I feel really good about the Sun Belt," Staub said. "Having FAU and FIU in the mix will help. I think they will raise the bar."

While FAU was being wooed by the Sun Belt, Schnellenberger made several statements about the Owls being short-term members, with the goal to jump into a BCS conference, preferably the Big East.

But with the new BCS agreement that allows high-ranked teams into BCS bowl games, that talk has ended.

"We're all in the BCS now," Waters said. "The Sun Belt has one of 11 BCS votes."

"Went from a I-AA team to a BCS team on paper," Angelos said.

As FAU takes the field for its first Sun Belt game tonight, the Owls have a trophy to play for and the spot in the New Orleans Bowl that comes with it.

"We have been talking about the whole offseason, knowing this year we would finally contend," running back DiIvory Edgecomb said. "We feel we can contend within the conference and win it."

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FAU's Sentinel, Post & Boca News articles

Another new era begins for Owls
By Marcus Nelson

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, September 22, 2005

BOCA RATON ? Even with games against Kansas, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Louisville on Florida Atlantic's schedule, the schools in the Sun Belt Conference with hyphens and compass directions in their names will be the ones who determine Florida Atlantic's success for the foreseeable future.

The Owls play their first Sun Belt game against Louisiana-Monroe at 7:30 tonight at Lockhart Stadium, but don't look for schools with decades of tradition in the Sun Belt, which began playing football in 2001.

The Sun Belt is at the bottom of the Sagarin ratings among Div. I-A conferences and has yet to win a non-conference game against a I-A team this season.

However, what the Sun Belt does have is a post-season berth guaranteed for its champion.

The bowl affiliation with the New Orleans Bowl (which may be held in Lafayette, La., this year) is what has FAU (0-3) excited as it prepares this week for Louisiana-Monroe (0-3).

"For us, it's a clean slate," senior quarterback Danny Embick said. "Obviously, we're 0-3, so we're excited about the opportunity to start anew. The way I'm looking at it right now, if we win this game it's like starting over 1-0, because at this point we only have one non-conference game left and the rest are conference games. I believe that talent-wise, we could feasibly win the conference if we had a special season and played to our ability."

FAU begins an era during which success won't be measured in terms such as "gaining experience" and "improvement week-to-week."

Beginning today, FAU will be judged by the conference standings.

"Our goal is to play competitively and go to the championship; whether we are experienced enough to do that I don't know," coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "We think it is very important that we become highly competitive at the highest level of the Sun Belt Conference, be there at the end, make some good things happen.

"There are enough good teams in the conference for us to get a lot of experience. But, here in this conference, we have to think in terms of wins."

Before accepting an invitation to join the Sun Belt in 2003, Schnellenberger was an outspoken critic of conferences and their policies of splitting revenue among all their members.

However, FAU was in no position to decline an invitation, because it needed to have four I-A home games each season, one of the main requirements for I-A membership.

"The rules have changed and being in the Sun Belt Conference is a blessing for us now," Schnellenberger said.

And the players agree..

"The teams we are playing against now, I don't think they are better than us," senior cornerback Willie Hughley said. "We can go out there and beat them. I like our bowl chances."

That's what Schnellenberger wants.

"They have bought into it,' Schnellenberger said. "The Sun Belt Conference is our immediate goal. In order to reach our goal and to win the Sun Belt Conference we need to win our first game as with other wins down the line."

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FAU's Sentinel, Post & Boca News articles

Owls have more offensive threats to face

Published Thursday, September 22, 2005
by Hannon Deutsch

Less than one week after dealing with Heisman hopeful Laurence Maroney ? the nation?s leading rusher (481 yards) ? Florida Atlantic University will face the most versatile offensive threat the Sun Belt Conference has to offer.

Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Steven Jyles is clearly one of the best-kept secrets in college football. But it?s hard to get recognition when the team you play for finished 2004 near the bottom of the nation in scoring offense.

FAU is somewhat familiar with Jyles? play calling ability. He led the Indians to a 17-13 victory last season at Lockhart Stadium against the most experienced team in the nation, spoiling the Owls? 5-0 start in the process.

Coming into tonight?s match up both teams are winless at 0-3 and had short weeks to prepare. FAU is coming off a 46-7 loss at Minnesota while the Indians fell to Georgia, 44-7.

This game will give FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger a chance to evaluate how much experience the Owls actually picked up in their first three games. While FAU comes in as narrow favorites, this is the Indians first SBC game also.

?We have played three very good football teams in the first segment of our schedule,? Schnellenberger said. ?We chose those games to gain the experience we need so desperately. Hopefully, this has given us enough experience to match up with Louisiana-Monroe. They are certainly a group of competitive guys and they played a very good game against us last year.?

Jyles owns every quarterback record in the Sun Belt except touchdown passes and is the Indians? all-time rushing leader (587 yards).

By the time Jyles leaves the maroon and gold he should be the program?s all-time leading passer, ahead of former NFL players Stan Humphries and Bubby Brister.

Offensive coordinator Todd Berry installed a multi-dimensional offense last year and the Indians struggled as they finished 106th in the nation in scoring (last in Sun Belt). For Jyles to effectively run Berry?s offense he needs running backs Mason Denham and Calvin Pawson to help move the chains. So far, that hasn?t been the team?s strong suit as the Indians are nearly identical to FAU in terms of rushing statistics. Jyles comes into the game as the Indians? second leading rusher, 20 yards behind Pawson (113 yards).

Jyles? main downfield option is 6-foot-6 receiver Drouzon Quillen, who has 10 receptions for 139 yards and one touchdown. If the Owls can stop the run and double up on Quillen it would force Jyles to become more predictable.

While FAU will attempt to keep the Indians? running game at bay, it will try and resuscitate its own rushing attack.

FAU has averaged 79 yards rushing at a mere 1.9 yards per carry. Quarterback Danny Embick is the Owls leading rusher (81 yards) and that is a direct result of the offensive line?s inability to block. Sophomore DiIvory Edgecomb and freshman Charles Pierre never had touches in a college game before the opener at Kansas. Edgecomb has impressed coaches enough to earn the starting spot, but he?s only managed to produce 41 rushing yards. Pierre leads all backs with 75 yards while Dominick Walker has run for 62.

That inconsistency has left the Owls vulnerable to blitzes. With Louisville on the horizon, this would be the perfect situation for the backfield and the line to gain some confidence.

?We have to show that we know how to run the ball,? Edgecomb said.

The Owls and Indians will kickoff at 7:30 pm on ESPNU. It can also be heard on the Owls Radio Network, WLVJ-1040 AM and WPSL-1590 AM…Defensive end Josh Jenkins, defensive tackle Jason Flemming, fullback Aaron Sanchez and linebacker Kinyumba Mutakabbir will be out of action.

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