FAU hopes to maintain its playoff hopes

FAU needs to win the remainder of its conference games to have a shot at a berth in the New Orleans Bowl.

BY BOB EMANUEL JR.
bemanuel@herald.com

During the 2003 season, Florida Atlantic's players often spoke of each game having the importance of a playoff contest.

Their diligence was rewarded with a playoff berth, which culminated with a No. 4 overall finish in Division I-AA.

Though many of today's Owls were in high school during the run, which included 10 consecutive victories en route to an 11-3 finish, one could draw parallels between the two seasons.

FAU (2-5, 1-1 Sun Belt) knows another conference loss could eliminate it from contention for the league's automatic bid to the New Orleans Bowl.

''Every Sun Belt game since the first one, we knew this is what we were playing for,'' FAU linebacker Cergile Sincere said.

Last year, three teams -- including today's opponent, Arkansas State -- finished 5-2 in the Sun Belt. Arkansas State won the bowl berth.

''We don't have to make it where there's a tie and we have to go off the record, see who beat who,'' FAU senior receiver Casey McGahee said. ``We want to go out and win all our Sun Belt games. Hopefully, another team will beat Louisiana-Lafayette.''

The Owls could have positioned themselves better, but a lackluster offensive showing last week in a 6-0 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette hurt their chances.

''If we would have won, we would have probably been in the driver's seat,'' Sincere said.

Arkansas State (5-2, 3-0) again leads the Sun Belt, although the Indians have yet to play Middle Tennessee (3-0 Sun Belt) or Lafayette (1-0 Sun Belt). The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition, with overall record the next factor. Even though Lafayette would need to lose two games for the Owls to have a chance, the league's format creates the opportunity.

For FAU to continue its bowl chase, the offense must improve. The Owls have just 73 points this season and were shut out for the second time last week, when they were forced to shuffle their linemen because of injuries and a suspension.

''We didn't get good play from our wide receivers,'' FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said.

``We had nicked players going into the game. . . . That doesn't excuse, by any stretch of the imagination, our ability to run precise patterns and be able to beat one-on-one coverage. We weren't able to do that with regularity in the game.''