FAU faces Troy in critical game Tuesday night on ESPN2

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, October 06, 2008

BOCA RATON Since winning its first conference title and playing in its first bowl game last season, expectations have been raised at Florida Atlantic University.

Now the Owls (1-4) are one loss from seeing such promise all but crushed.

With three consecutive losses and, more importantly, an 0-1 start in the Sun Belt, FAU's season is likely on the line when it faces Troy (2-2, 1-0 Sun Belt) at 8 tonight at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

It's the Owls' second consecutive weeknight game televised nationally by ESPN2. Last Tuesday night, the Owls suffered the most disappointing regular-season setback in their eight-year history when Middle Tennessee State completed a 32-yard Hail Mary pass with no time remaining and added the extra point for a 14-13 victory.

The defeat leaves FAU with little room for error if it intends to repeat as conference champion and return to the New Orleans Bowl.

"We didn't want to lose any games in the Sun Belt," cornerback Tavious Polo said. "We have to fold that up, that loss, and get rid of it. We can't lose another one from here on out."

Last year's game in Troy, Ala., was billed as the Sun Belt's version of a championship Saturday, being played the first day of December and with the winner going to the New Orleans Bowl. FAU scored 21 third-quarter points and held off Troy for the most significant victory in its history.

The 38-32 final marked the first time FAUdefeated Troy in five games and ruined the Trojans' season.

Now, Troy can pay back Florida Atlantic.

"I don't know if we'll be consistent enough to win the conference or not," Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "We only lost one game in the conference last year and beat the people we had to beat to win the championship, so we're not out of it.

"(But) if we lose another one it will bevery difficult for us to repeat as conference champions."

The two teams actually shared the 2007 conference crown with 6-1 records, giving Troy a piece of the last two Sun Belt titles.

Troy coach Larry Blakeney initially picked FAU to win the conference.

"Florida Atlantic is in the upper echelon in our league," Blakeney said. "But as you can see there have been upsets already."

The Trojans started the season with a 31-17 victory at Middle Tennessee. They were competitive with Ohio State, losing 28-10 in Columbus.

Owls quarterback Rusty Smith was asked if he believes Troy will need the added motivation of last year's loss.

"They're probably feeling extra..." he said. "But we're just trying to get our season turned around right now, so it's something we're not trying to think about. We're just trying to get a victory as soon as possible."