FAU can state its case in Sun Belt

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

 

BOCA RATON If Florida Atlantic is to contend for the Sun Belt Conference championship, its most important game of the season could be tonight.

Although it's early in the conference season, the Owls say getting to play Louisiana-Lafayette, the top team in the conference, at Lockhart Stadium could allow them to make a statement

"This a major opportunity for us," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "If we can win against this good Sun Belt Conference team, that will give us proof we can be competitive with the balance of the league. That's a good place to be at this juncture."

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN2, the second time FAU has been on national television.

Both teams took their lumps early in the season playing tough non-conference games, but the Ragin' Cajuns were more successful than the Owls.

While FAU was outscored 192-20 in losses to Clemson, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and South Carolina, the Ragin' Cajuns have two of the Sun Belt's five wins this season against opponents from other conferences.

After losing to LSU 45-3 and Texas A&M 51-7, Louisiana-Lafayette defeated Eastern Michigan 33-14 and then pulled off a 31-28 upset of Houston after trailing by 21 points.

"There are some similarities from a standpoint of playing those teams early," Ragin' Cajuns coach Ricky Bustle said. "You have to come back, get your feet back on the ground and play."

Even after those four blowout losses, the Owls believe they are on the right track after winning their past two games.

"We're really excited about this game," FAU senior fullback Aaron Sanchez said. "From here on out, it's Sun Belt games and that allows us to focus on our goal of a conference championship."

The Owls won last year's meeting after flying in the day of the game because there were no hotel rooms available in Lafayette, which was still housing refugees from Hurricane Katrina.

The winner of tonight's game will still have that its goal of a bowl in its sights - because the SBC has a berth to the New Orleans Bowl - while the loser will face a tougher road.

"We have a lot of confidence and momentum and the rest of the games are conference games," FAU running back Charles Pierre said. "If we could win out that would be tremendous."

Louisiana-Lafayette has won its past three games, and FAU is brimming with confidence after winning its conference opener on the road.

"I'm really proud of this football team and where they are today," Schnellenberger said. "If we would have said at the beginning of the year we would be right here, we would be happy with that. We would have liked to have one of the first games, but it turned out we're not ready to do that yet, but that's the last time I have to say that."

La.-Lafayette at FAU

When: 7:30 p.m. TV: ESPN2 Radio: 640-AM, 1450-AM

Records: ULL 3-2, 0-0 Sun Belt Conference; FAU 2-4, 1-0.

Key matchup: ULL quarterback Jerry Babb vs. FAU defensive line.ULL is ranked No. 10 in rushing with 209 yards per game thanks to Babb's option attack. FAU has faced similar offenses the past two games.

Key Question: Did the Owls have enough time to prepare for the Ragin' Cajuns? FAU played its last game Thursday, so it had to hurry to get a gameplan ready for ULL. The Ragin' Cajunshad a bye last week. The advantage goes to ULL.

Prediction: Louisiana-Lafayette 28, FAU 17

Directions: From I-95, exit at West Commercial Boulevard, go west a half-mile and turn right onto Oriole Boulevard, stadium is on the left. Stadium info

From Florida's Turnpike, exit at West Commercial Boulevard, go east about 3 miles and turn left onto Oriole Boulevard, stadium is on the left.

Tickets: (866) FAU-OWLS, (561) 966-3309 or www.ticketmaster.com