Once again Middle Tennessee will open the schedule against a Sun Belt Conference opponent. This year they will travel to Lockhart Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, FL to take on the Owls of Florida Atlantic.
The Owls are led by legendary Coach Howard Schnellenberger. Schnellenberger has been a part of 4 national championship teams. In 1983 he was the head coach at the University of Miami when they won the national championship. He was also the offensive coordinator for Paul “Bear” Bryant when the Crimson Tide won national championships in 1961, 1964, and 1965. In the mid to late '8o's he was the head coach at Louisville and is credited with the turn around of the Cardinal program.
2006- 5-7 Overall, 4-3 Sun Belt
The series is tied 2-2.
Middle Tennessee has won the last two meetings.
2006 marked the first time the home team had won a game in this series. The Blue Raiders won 35-14 last year.
FAU has traditionally scheduled a rash of “money games” early in the year. In 2006 their first four games were on the road at Clemson, Kansas St., Oklahoma St., and South Carolina. This is a major reason that FAU usually gets a slow start in the win column. It was not until the 5th game of the season that FAU came out victorious. They beat conference foe Louisiana-Monroe by 2 points.
As the season wore on the Owls became a much better club. They won 5 of their last 8 games and tied for 3rd in the Sun Belt conference with Arkansas St., whom they beat earlier in the year 29-0. They ended the season with a 5-8 recorded overall and a 4-3 conference record.
Florida Atlantic ended the 2006 season on an upswing. They won their final two games and it should be easy to build on that momentum. The Owls only lost 9 players to graduation, while returning 51 lettermen.
The schedule does not get much easier for FAU this year. They are one of several Sun Belt teams who were awarded only 3 home conference games; Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Arkansas St. Of course, the road game against Florida International is at a neutral site in the annual battle of the Shula Bowl.
The out-of-conference schedule is just as brutal as last year. The only good news is the games are spread out a little bit more, but the competition is even tougher. They play host to South Florida and Minnesota. They are on the road at Oklahoma State, Kentucky, and Florida.
Many coaches do not like to open the season with a conference game, but considering the Owls previous scheduling one would think that Schnellenberger welcomes the chance to start the 2007 season on a positive note. Not only do they open the season with conference rival Middle Tennessee, they play host to them. This is the first time since 2004 that the Owls have opened with a “winnable” game.
The quarterback situation is an interesting one. After opening the 2006 campaign as the starter, Sean Clayton gave way to Rusty Smith. No matter which player gets the start, the Owls have two quality players at that position. Do look for Rusty Smith to lead the charge for the Owls.
The Owls offensive line is under-sized. The philosophy is to go with a lighter, quicker line, but the Owl’s offensive line has struggled at times using this approach.
The schedule is one that is conducive for raising funds for the athletic program, but it is not one that allows for many realistic wins. Unless FAU is able to pull a couple of upsets in out-of-conference play, these “money” games can take a real toll on the team.
The 2007 outlook is similar to the 2006 season. The out-of-conference schedule is very tough. If the Owls are looking to make some noise it will have to be in conference play. The Owls have the talent and experience to win the Sun Belt. If they can beat Middle Tennessee in the opening game they will be in the driver’s seat of the Sun Belt race, a loss in that first game and they will be trying to play catch-up all year.
09/01 M Tenn St
09/08 at Oklahoma St
09/22 at N Texas
09/29 at Kentucky
10/06 South Florida
10/20 at La Lafayette
11/10 Arkansas St
11/17 at Florida
11/24 at Fla Int'l
12/01 at Troy