The Shula Bowl trophy has spent the past year sitting at the front of FIU’s lecture hall-style football meeting room, standing off to the side like a special guest speaker awaiting introduction.
Whether the trophy establishes permanent residency in Miami-Dade County or moves back to its longtime home in Boca Raton gets determined Friday night at FAU Stadium, site of FIU and FAU’s last dance with each other.
“It’s going to be the last time we play them for a while,” FIU senior wide receiver Jacob Younger said. “If we bring this trophy home, it’ll be here pretty much forever. We don’t know if we’ll play them again.”
After Friday night, this natural rivalry gets put on the same pantry top shelf with FIU-University of Miami and grandma’s last three fruitcakes. FIU leaves the Sun Belt and FAU behind in June 2013 with a move into Conference USA (which has been getting the belt from the Sun Belt this season on the football field). It won’t happen in 2013 or 2014.
You could argue this rivalry’s ending just after it’s starting. FIU’s only series win before last season, 2005, got vacated after NCAA sanctions came down in 2007. FIU lost close games (2008’s 57-50, 2009’s 28-21), got routed (2006’s 31-0, 2007’s 55-23) and was by upset (21-9 in 2010).
After FIU trounced FAU 41-7 last year, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton said winning the Shula Bowl was one of the reasons he stayed for his senior season.
“We’ve had so many close games with them, I know we should’ve beaten them and we ended up losing,” Younger said. “[Winning in 2011] was a great feeling.”
“The rivalry games are the reason you play college football,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “They’re what college football is all about. There’s a complete and thorough understanding of what this game is all about, of how important this game is, on both sides, I’m sure.”
FAU coach Carl Pelini, in his first year with the Owls after four years as a Nebraska assistant, almost shrugged off the game.
“One thing I’ve tried to do with this team is not talk too much on the opponent except for schemes and Xs and Os,” Pelini said on the Sun Belt coaches weekly media conference call. “I always felt like if you were one of those teams that got up and played for a special game differently, what you’re telling your players is we don’t prepare the right way the other weeks.’’
Also, any rivalry with FIU is, for now, part of FAU’s past. Pelini told his team in the first meeting, he wasn’t concerned with the past.
The two schools, differentiated by 57 miles and a vowel, sit underwater as far as record, 2-8 (1-5 in the Sun Belt) for the Panthers and 3-7 (2-4) for the Owls. It’s been well-documented how disappointing this was for FIU. Coming off a 1-11 season with Pelini taking over from program founder Howard Schnellenberger, this was expected of FAU. What wasn’t expected were wins over Troy and Western Kentucky, the latter the Sun Belt favorite by midseason.
“Even before the win, I felt like we were improving week to week,” Pelini said.