BOCA RATON – There’s an empty space in the trophy case that welcomes visitors to the lobby of the Oxley Center. It’s where the Shula Bowl trophy usually sits.
Being Shula Bowl week, FAU coach Charlie Partridge wants to keep that trophy close.
“It’s about 20 feet that way sitting outside my office,” said Partridge, pointing across the hall during his weekly meeting with the media.
Saturday marks Shula Bowl XV with FIU. The game draws its name from a mentor of the first coaches at each school. Howard Schnellenberger served as Don Shula’s offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins. Don Strock played quarterback for the Dolphins under Shula.
For Partridge, this week is all about Shula.
“We’re staying at the Shula hotel,” said Partridge, smiling. “I think we’ll probably eat Shula burgers. Shula trophy. It’s the week of the Shula family – which is awesome.”
This year’s Shula celebration lacks some of the luster of past contests. FAU enters with a 1-3 record, having lost three consecutive games. FIU has yet to win this season.
“Rivalry game, trophy game, records go out the window,” Partridge said. “None of that matters in a game like this. The start of conference play speaks for itself. This is a big one for us and our program.”
For FIU it’s also the dawn of the Ron Cooper era. The Panthers fired coach Ron Turner on Sunday and promoted Cooper, formerly the defensive coordinator, to interim coach.
Partridge doesn’t plan to let the coaching change down south affect the way the Owls gameplan for Saturday.
“They named an interim head coach from inside, so we’ll go off the film we’ve got,” he said.
FAU has dominated the rivalry, winning eight of the first nine meetings. The NCAA later forced FIU to vacate that 2005 victory.
The record has been more balanced in recent years, with FIU winning three of the past five Shula Bowls.
FAU is the reigning champion, bringing the Shula Bowl trophy back to Boca Raton with a 31-17 victory on Howard Schnellenberger Field last season.
“This game last year our kids prepared the right way and I anticipate them doing the same this week.” Partridge said.