Gator game important but bowl remains goal

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, November 15, 2007

BOCA RATON Florida Atlantic has one of its most important games of the season against an in-state opponent looming on the horizon.

But before the Owls get to that big game next weekend against Florida International, there is the matter of Saturday's non-conference contest against No. 14 Florida in Gainesville.


In the crazy world of FAU football, the Owls (5-4) must guard against looking past the defending national champions in order to get to the team with the longest losing streak in the nation.

"I think it's important because it's the game we have now," FAU senior offensive lineman Jarrid Smith said of the game against the Gators (7-3). "But, the games after this are more important to our team goals."

While playing the Gators is a milestone in the development of FAU's program, the two remaining Sun Belt games at FIU and at Troy will determine the Owls' post-season fate. If the Owls win their final two games, they will play in the New Orleans Bowl, regardless of what happens against Florida.

"This can only help us in those two games," FAU offensive lineman John Rizzo said. "It can show us what we really have and what we can really do.

"If we come out of there with a win, it will launch us even if we weren't to win our conference. That is what we are looking for at this point in our development."

And just to play the established Gators is a big step.

"Obviously, it is a game that we wanted to play very badly," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "It didn't take long to accept their invitation because of the magnitude of the game and what it could mean to the development of our program."

But even the optimistic Schnellenberger knows how difficult it will be to pull out a win in Gainesville, even comparing it to facing off against a fellow Louisville native.

"It's like climbing into the same ring with Muhammad Ali," Schnellenberger said. "There is a certain amount of credibility that you don't have before you do that. You might get knocked out, but there is an opportunity to win."