It’s not often that an inaugural college football bowl gets a matchup as highly touted as Marshall vs. Northern Illinois, but that’s exactly what the Boca Raton Bowl landed in its game that will be played Dec.23 at FAU Stadium .
The game, which kicks off at 5p.m. and will be televised by ESPN, is the only one outside the coveted “New Year’s Six” bowls that that pits two conference champions: Conference USA’s Thundering Herd (12-1) and the Mid-American Conference’s Huskies (11-2).
On Wednesday, with Marshall coach Doc Holliday and NIU coach Rod Carey on a constructed stage previewing the matchup at the Via Mizner Golf & Country Club in Boca Raton, the man who made it all possible sat beaming in the audience.
“I’m extremely pleased and proud of what’s happening here, and obviously it has come to pass,” said Howard Schnellenberger, who led the University of Miami to its first national championship in 1983, coached the first FAU football game in 2001 and his final season there in 2011 — the year the stadium was constructed. “This is what we were looking for when we started the program up here. And as we brought the football team along, the stadium came on board and things kind of fell in place.
“This bowl game will have a major impact on moving the university ahead,” Schnellenberger said, crediting new FAU president John W. Kelly for carrying the torch. “We’ve just touched the surface on what’s going to happen here in Boca Raton, in and around this game of football.”
Of 38 bowl games this postseason, the Boca Raton Bowl is rated 10th by Yahoo Sports, 14th by ESPN and 15th by CBSSports.com.
The 23 victories combined by Marshall and NIU are the third most of all the bowl pairings, bettered only by the two College Football Playoff semifinal games, as Boca Raton Bowl executive director Doug Mosley noted.
The coaches just appreciate the recruiting hotbed, with great weather an added plus. It was 29 degrees in DeKalb, Illinois, on Wednesday morning, and 37 degrees in Huntington, West Virginia.
On an unusually cool day in Boca Raton, it was a sunny 66.
“This is the bowl we wanted to come to,” said Holliday, known as a master recruiter. He seemed pleased that his 30 players from South Florida “will have the opportunity to come home and play in front of their friends and family.”
Carey, whose first game as NIU’s coach was against Florida State in the 2013 Orange Bowl (NIU lost), said he had “about 12” players from South Florida.
“It’s great to be here,” Carey said. “Unbelievable location, date and opponent. … Obviously, it’s a big recruiting tool to be down here, which we’re ecstatic about.
“First year? It doesn’t feel like that at all.”