There’s something more than the Shula Bowl trophy on the line Friday night in Boca Raton when FIU plays FAU for the 12th time.
A win for FAU and the Owls become bowl eligible after abrupt changes at the head coach and defensive coordinator positions eight games into the season. An FIU victory would salvage some regional pride in a season stuffed with humiliation.
“It’s the biggest game of the year no matter what our season came down to,” FIU fifth-year senior middle linebacker Markeith Russell said. “Whether it was an undefeated season or as bad as it could be right now. We’re just honing in and telling the young guys, ‘Think back to your high school days, when you played the last four years of grade school and you were that hyped up for that district game.’”
The battle for the Shula Bowl suffered clinical death with FIU moving to Conference USA, FAU remaining in the Sun Belt Conference and no future nonconference games planned. The Panthers claimed permanent possession of the trophy and swaggering rights after a 34-24 win at FAU Stadium.
But the hurricane winds of conference change blew the week after that game. Conference USA officially lost Tulane and East Carolina to the Big East in 2014. C-USA predictably invited FAU and Middle Tennessee State to join, and both decided not to wait for 2014. They jumped out of the Sun Belt to C-USA in 2013.
FAU, winners of only two of its first eight games before coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Resktis lost their jobs after accusations of drug use, are on a three-game winning streak and 27 1/2-point favorites over FIU.
Only winless Southern Miss fell to FIU this season.
Interim FAU head coach Brian Wright and FIU coach Ron Turner both know the result can allow them to deeper dip in the well of Florida recruiting.
“When we won against South Florida it was huge,” Wright said. “We had some of the guys that weren’t quite sure they were interested in Florida Atlantic all of a sudden answering our phone calls. So, I think it is big any time you can have success against an in state rival.”