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FAU's Welcome to the SunBelt.

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Sun Belt teams happy to have Florida roots

By Ted Hutton
Staff Writer
Posted July 27 2005


NEW ORLEANS ? Sun Belt Conference coaches are greeting new members Florida Atlantic and Florida International like long-lost siblings rather than new rivals.

"I don't think there is any question that those two teams are going to be great additions to this league," North Texas coach Darrell Dickey said Tuesday, as the Sun Belt's Media Days concluded with FAU's Howard Schnellenberger and FIU's Don Strock being welcomed to the fold.


"They bring some instant credibility, not only with who the head coaches are but also the talent pool they can recruit from and the quality of players they have on their teams," said Charlie Weatherbie, Louisiana-Monroe's coach.

The Sun Belt, which added football in 2001, was impacted by the conference-hopping touched off by Miami's move to the ACC.

FIU and FAU are in, and New Mexico State, Idaho and Utah State are gone, a move the remaining coaches welcomed.

"Being more regional is a plus," said Andy McCollum, coach of Middle Tennessee. "And adding [the state of] Florida to the conference is exciting. I know what kind of players they are going to get year in and year out."

McCollum, whose team has lost to FAU two years in a row, also said having the Owls and Golden Panthers in the conference will help him recruit in Florida.

"More people will know about Middle Tennessee down there," he said. "It is a plus."

McCollum traveled around the state for two weeks this spring to increase his contacts and pave the way from more aggressive recruiting later. And he is not alone.

"We will be recruiting in Florida more than in the past now that we will have a presence there," said Arkansas State's Steve Roberts. "There are a lot of players down there, no doubt about it."

After playing as an independent since beginning play in 2001, FAU's move into the Sun Belt made its transition from Division I-AA to I-A possible.

"It was the only choice we had, but it is a nice fit," Schnellenberger said. "It gives us goals to shoot for. We can now compete for the Sun Belt championship and go to a bowl game."

After spending its first three seasons ranked at the bottom of the 11 I-A conferences, the Sun Belt finished ahead of the Mid-American Conference in the Sagarin ratings last season.

"We are headed in the right direction as our teams are becoming more competitive," said Commissioner Wright Waters.

Troy State pulled the biggest upset last season, beating Missouri, and the Trojans, who joined the Sun Belt last season, also gave the conference its first first-round draft pick when Dallas chose defensive end Demarcus Ware with the 11th selection.



Another article from The Post:

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http://www.palmbeachpost.com/sports/content/sports/epaper/2005/07/27/a10c_SUNbelt_0727.html
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