BOCA RATON – Looking at the way FAU’s season is unfolding, program founder Howard Schnellenberger sees this week’s homecoming game against North Texas as the game that could truly launch the Owls into Conference USA title contention.
“One game gives you a taste,” Schnellenberger said. “Two games gives you hope. Three wins gives you confidence. One win or two wins, that third win you start getting really confident. They get this next win, they’ve got something in their knapsack. They’ve got the credentials.”
Coming off a bye week preceded by consecutive wins, FAU will try to earn that third straight win against a Mean Green team that’s leading C-USA’s West Division.
After a slow start to the season, Schnellenberger senses the Owls are putting it all together.
“I don’t feel it, but I smell it,” Schnellenberger said. “It looks like it’s got the taste of the formula, of the plan that could get them to be pretty good.”
Winners of three of their last four games – a stretch in which the Owls tided their win total in each of the past three seasons – Schnellenberger expects the Owls to continue to post victories.
“It gives you hope – that’s the biggest thing it does,” Schnellenberger said. “Hallelujah! We can play.”
The last time FAU fans really reveled in that feeling, Schenllenberger led the Owls.
On Saturday Florida Atlantic will honor what was the most talented of Schnellenberger’s teams.
The 2007 squad claimed the Sun Belt Conference title in the Owls first year of eligibility, then defeated Memphis in New Orleans for the program’s first-ever bowl victory.
“We were growing our [fan] base hand over fist,” Schnellenberger said. “For us to get that many people to get on that airplane and go up to New Orleans, and others driving there in their cars, that was pretty neat for a startup school.”
On the way to the New Orleans Bowl FAU earned its first, and to this point only, victory over a Power Five team, beating Minnesota 42-39. The Owls also closed the season with three consecutive wins, including a 55-23 Shula Bowl shellacking of FIU.
That year a sophomore quarterback named Rusty Smith threw for 3,688 yards and 32 touchdowns – totals that remain FAU single season records.
“Rusty Smith was a hero that carried us on his back during the years he was here,” Schnellenberger said.
The Owls weren’t one dimensional that season. Charles Pierre gained 782 yards on the ground. Cortez Gent caught 64 passes for 1,082 yards and nine TDs. Tight end Jason Harmon caught 63 passes for 825 yards and five scores.
The same nucleus returned the following season to lead FAU to its second consecutive bowl victory.
“Those two [bowl] games are what really gave the administration and the student body and the athletic department a reason to start thinking about a stadium,” Schnellenberger said.
Ten years after that first bowl win, Schnellenberger will enter that stadium, which opened in 2011- his final season, and stand on the field named for him while he and his players are honored for taking FAU on the first bowl ride in program history.
“We started the season with the goal of a bowl,” Schnellenberger said. “It didn’t surprise us. That was a goal. We made pretty even improvement. Our march during that year to a bowl game wasn’t spectacular but it was a great feat for that football team.”