FLORIDA ATLANTIC 42, MINNESOTA 39

It is their 'signature' moment

Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith set school records by passing for 463 yards and five touchdowns as the Owls got their first win against a Big Ten team.

mwallace@MiamiHerald.com

At one point during the week, Florida Atlantic football coach Howard Schnellenberger thanked University of Minnesota officials for doing something few teams from major-college conferences do.

''I'm indebted to the Gophers,'' Schnellenberger said of Big Ten Conference member Minnesota. ``It's hard to get top-of-the-line opponents at this infant age we're at.''

Florida Atlantic showed Saturday just how much it appreciated the opportunity -- even if it means making two trips north in exchange for Minnesota's one visit to Florida.

Rusty Smith set school records by passing for 463 yards and five touchdowns, and the Owls' defense forced seven turnovers to beat the Gophers 42-39 at Dolphin Stadium.

It was the Owls' first win against a team from a Bowl Championship Series conference. Until Saturday, FAU had been outscored 506-89 in 11 losses to BCS teams since it joined Division I-A in 2004.

Schnellenberger, who previously built programs at Miami and Louisville, said beating Minnesota was a ''signature'' moment for his current program. He called it a win that might have validated FAU as a threat to any team on any level.

''It certifies like a notary public that you can play at this level,'' said Schnellenberger, 72.

``But what happens after this is going to determine how special it is.''

Running a version of the spread offense that was installed last week, FAU outgained Minnesota 580-470 in total offense. The Owls also set or tied 12 school single-game records.

The Owls (2-1) now must prove they can handle prosperity. Saturday's win came a week after a 42-6 loss at Big 12 member Oklahoma State. FAU returns to Sun Belt Conference play next week against North Texas.

Guarding against a potential letdown is something FAU's players said they would handle later. For now, the mission is to enjoy the win.

''It played out well,'' linebacker Frantz Joseph said. ``We [had] a 1 o'clock game and all night to celebrate.''

That celebration started when defensive back Tavious Polo's interception with three seconds left thwarted Minnesota's drive that could have tied or won the game. Polo had three of the four interceptions thrown by Gophers quarterback Adam Weber. FAU forced three fumbles and scored 21 points off Minnesota turnovers.

''We're not going to win a football game when we turn the ball over seven times,'' said Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, whose team trailed 35-14 at halftime. ``It was as bad as it could be in the first half.''

Weber passed for 335 yards and four touchdowns but lost his shootout with Smith, FAU's sophomore starter. Smith completed 27 of 44 passes without a turnover.

''It doesn't get any bigger or better than this,'' Smith said. ``We immediately came into this game knowing we could beat these guys.''

The Owls avenged a 46-7 loss at Minnesota in 2005 and complete the three-game series with a trip next season to Minnesota (2-1).

Because many major schools recruit in South Florida, Schnellenberger said he didn't think Saturday's win would force bigger schools to reconsider lining up games against FAU.

The Owls have games scheduled with Michigan State, Texas, Florida and Kentucky in the coming seasons. But there's no longer an intimidation factor. Joseph, who led FAU with 14 tackles Saturday, placed his team's showing alongside Appalachian State's season-opening win against Michigan and Troy's victory Friday against Oklahoma State.

''This says a lot about college football,'' Joseph said. ``[Appalachian State], Troy, us -- it's the upset year.''