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SunBelt and Bowls Are Watching ... Show Up

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SunBelt and Bowls Are Watching ... Show Up

Sun Belt showdown
Troy and FAU vying for title, automatic bid

By Dan McDonald
[email protected]

It comes down to one game for all the Sun Belt Conference football marbles this weekend.
Front-running Troy (6-0) hosts second-place Florida Atlantic (5-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in one of only two league games remaining this season. The winner punches a ticket to the Dec. 21 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl in the Louisiana Superdome.


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Troy has already locked up a share of the regular-season crown. However, the visiting Owls could get a share and take the league's slot in the New Orleans Bowl with a win, with the bowl nod coming on the head-up victory.

"We're sitting here and we have a share of the championship," said Troy coach Larry Blakeney Monday. "But the things that everybody wants and everybody's playing for are riding on this game. We thought halfway through like it was headed in this direction and that the last one might mean a lot, but you never know."
A Troy victory would be old-hat. The Trojans were the league's representative in last year's New Orleans Bowl - a slot won on a tie-breaker with Middle Tennessee - and drilled Conference USA representative Rice 41-17 in the bowl game. Troy is virtually assured of a third bowl trip in the last four seasons.

FAU, on the other hand, has only had an intercollegiate football program for seven years, and has never played in a Division I bowl game.

"Everything that we do is new to our players," said Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger. "I'm quite proud of where they are in this juncture of development in the program. It's a big game for our players and for everybody connected with our university."

THEY'RE WATCHING: Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters said Monday it was important for both Troy and FAU to put on a good show Saturday - play-wise and crowd-wise - in what amounts to a league title game.

"If FAU wins, you'll obviously see Troy in the at-large pool," Waters said of the possibilities of the league getting a second team into bowl participation. "There are some very good teams out there this year that are going to have seven wins or more, so it's going to really be important for both of those teams to demonstrate they can take a crowd to a bowl game."

The at-large pool for the available bowls is complicated by what happens in the BCS games, with those participants to be announced Sunday. The Conference USA slot for the New Orleans Bowl is already determined with Memphis coming to New Orleans to face the Troy-FAU winner.

THE "OTHER" GAME: The Sun Belt's other game is, record-wise, the battle to escape the conference cellar, with Florida International (0-6) hosting North Texas (1-5) in a 6 p.m. Saturday contest that officially wraps up the league schedule.

FIU goes into the contest as the nation's only Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) team without a victory this year. The Golden Panthers are also riding a 21-game losing streak, by far the longest in the country.

FUTURE SHOCK: The Sun Belt's six wins against teams from the traditional BCS conferences this year didn't come as a surprise to Waters. But he said Monday the league's football members can't afford to rest on recent accomplishments.

"We said in the summer that we thought 2006 was the year we turned the corner," he said. "This year has proven that to be correct. There were some great wins, the marquee wins that get a lot of attention and several other good wins.

"What we have to guard against is that we're not complacent or happy with just being there. Trust me, if Boise State can go to the BCS, if Hawaii can go to the BCS, then a team from this league can go to the BCS. We can't be happy until we're at that point."

LAST DANCE: The FIU-North Texas game Saturday will be the final college game in Miami's Orange Bowl Stadium, the place where FIU coach Mario Cristobal played all his collegiate home games while with the Miami Hurricanes. He was later a Hurricane assistant before taking over the FIU program last winter.

"That place is special and everyone in the city knows it," Cristobal said of the stadium, which is scheduled for demolition next year. "A lot of people around this community, all they know about football is what happened in that stadium."

FIU is scheduled to move into its on-campus facility, one that is under construction, to begin the 2008 season. And Florida Atlantic apparently won't be far behind. Schnellenberger said Monday that FAU's governing board has given its approval for the athletic department to begin the process to build a proposed 30,000-seat on-campus stadium.

"We've been waiting on the board to approve this for a long time," Schnellenberger said. "They've given us the go-ahead to make it happen, and our tentative date to have it in place is Sept. 2, 2010. But if we get a naming sponsor willing to put up $20 million or so, if that happens soon we could be in place by 2009."

The financial aspect sounds daunting, but Schnellenberger said FAU's locale will be a plus in raising funds for the stadium.

"It's a fertile area for corporate headquarters, financial institutions, a level of people that are looking for club seats and boxes and that have a need for sponsorship opportunities," he said. "It's just a matter of us starting the process in an orderly fashion."

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Re: SunBelt and Bowls Are Watching ... Show Up

"That place is special and everyone in the city knows it," Cristobal said of the stadium, which is scheduled for demolition next year. "A lot of people around this community, all they know about football is what happened in that stadium."

I'm not a UM fan and last week was only my second time ever at the O.B. but from looking at the surrounding area I think the only part the people in the community around the O.B. care about is Par King $20 lol. That was one of the signs we saw just outside..

My two favorite teams are FAU, and who ever is beating FIU!
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Re: SunBelt and Bowls Are Watching ... Show Up

Great write up…..about all parties…..the sunbelt is really doing a good job, hopefully we can get 2 bowl bids this year (us going to N.O.)

As for the O.B., last week was my 1st trip down and being on the field was amazing….the history of that place is like no other…..i will be sad to see it go, but it really needs to be torn down.  It was def not worth keeping.

And Jab atleast you could read the sign…..no one around the area spoke enough english to point me in the right direction for parking…..lol
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