Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 01, 2007
BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic faced the highest-ranked team it has played when it lost to then-No. 14 Kentucky 45-17 on Saturday.
The prospect of playing a top-10 team won't seem as daunting when FAU plays host to South Florida, which vaulted from No. 18 to No. 6 in the AP poll, Saturday.
"They should be there," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger, who votes in the USA Today coaches poll. "I think I had them right before Florida."
South Florida is No. 9 in the coaches' poll, but don't blame that on Schnellenberger, who has respect for the Bulls.
"They play with a passion that is worthy of copying," Schnellenberger said. "I am very impressed with them as a football team and them as a program."
It's the highest ranking for the Bulls, who defeated West Virginia, then the No. 5 team in the nation, on Friday.
The Owls figured they would be playing an in-state rival ranked in the top 10 this season when they faced Florida on Nov. 19 in Gainesville. Florida is No. 9 in the AP poll.
FAU officials are hoping for a sell-out crowd at the 20,000-seat stadium Saturday. FAU's biggest crowd at Lockhart Stadium is 12,857 for FAU's I-AA semifinal playoff game against Colgate in 2003. Even after the lopsided loss to the Wildcats, who rose to No. 8 in this week's poll, FAU players were looking forward to Saturday.
"I am very excited to play South Florida," said quarterback Rusty Smith, who said he watched the USF's victory against West Virginia game on television at the team hotel in Lexington, Ky, . "That's going to be a very big game for us."
Despite the loss to the Wildcats, the Owls (3-2) believe they can compete with USF (4-0).
"We don't get to play Florida teams except for FIU," said junior offensive lineman John Rizzo. "To get to play a bigger and what is known as better team than us is going to have us very, very excited."
With USF at No. 6, Kentucky at No. 8 and Florida at No. 9, three of FAU's five non-conference opponents are in the top 10.
Schnellenberger also is excited to play a ranked team for the second consecutive week and is happy the Owls want a shot at the Bulls.
"That's the reason they came here," Schnellenberger said. "We promised we would play the best teams who would schedule us. We haven't disappointed them and they haven't disappointed us."