Florida Atlantic fielded their first ever football team in 2001. Led by legendary coach Howard Schnellenburger, the Owls have compiled a respectable 17-18 record including going 11-3 last season and going deep into the 1-AA playoffs. The upcoming season will be a tough one for FAU as they face seven 1-A opponents (including FIU). Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Don Strock has coached Florida International since they started their football team in 2002. FIU has compiled a 7-16 record in two seasons. The Golden Panthers schedule is not as tough as Florida Atlantic's but is tough for a school entering only their third season. FIU will play traditional 1-AA powerhouse teams Western Kentucky, Youngstown State, McNeese State, and Georgia Southern as well as four 1-A teams (including FAU).
New Mexico State, Utah State, and Idaho will be joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2005. New Mexico State has been a full member of the Sun Belt since 2001. The Aggies competed very well in all sports, and their membership will be missed. Idaho and Utah State have been football-only members. Confused by all these changes?
Troy University: football 2004, all sports 2006
New Mexico State: joining Western Athletic Conference in 2005
What does all this moving around mean for the Sun Belt? For the first time in four years, the Belt will be regionally compact. Instead of stretching from Murfreesboro, Tennessee to Moscow, Idaho, it will soon go from Denton, Texas to Miami, Florida. The conference will now have a stronger recruiting presence in Louisiana as well as having a new recruiting presence in Alabama and Florida.
The movement is not over yet. Ideally, the University of Denver will find a new home by 2006 and Western Kentucky will move their 1-AA football program to the 1-A level. Denver belongs in a western conference, and the Belt needs nine 1-A football members to even out the conference schedule. Western Kentucky has fielded some very good 1-AA teams and won the 1-AA championship as recently as 2002. If they choose to move up, it will only strengthen the regional lineup that Sun Belt Conference Commissioner Wright Waters has worked so hard to form. If the Hilltoppers choose not to move up, it may force the conference to look to other schools such as Temple for football- only membership. Granting that Denver can move out by 2006, travel cost will be cut not only in football but also in all other conference sports, as great travel partnerships will be in place.
As usual, the opening weekend of college football has most Sun Belt Conference teams playing Top 25 or potential Top 25 teams. One need only look at the schedule below to see a regular who's who of college football teams. Only Florida International and Louisiana-Lafayette avoid the "big boys" this weekend. To make things worse, also as usual, all of these games against the Top 25 schools are on the road. Look for Troy University to walk out of Huntington, West Virginia with a win. This will be a surprise to some, but Troy defeated Marshall at home last season and will do so again this year. The opening weekend is notorious for upsets; Florida Atlantic and New Mexico State will put a scare in Hawaii and Arkansas but unfortunately will come up short.
Schedule this week:
Jacksonville at Florida International, winner will be Florida International
Game of the week:
Troy University at Marshall, Saturday, September 4th
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