ECU, as expected, became C-USA’s fourth bowl-eligible team last week with a workmanlike 34-13 victory against Florida International. Marshall and Middle Tennessee are heavy favorites to become the fifth and sixth on Saturday.
Suddenly and rather dramatically, a newcomer is in the bowl mix.
Florida Atlantic set itself up to make a legitimate run after handing Tulane its first league loss last week. (Tulane, remember, knocked off ECU.) The Owls entered that game 2-6 and needing to run the table. The challenge looked daunting enough under the best of circumstances.
They were anything but.
Days before the game, Owls head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis resigned after admitting they used drugs. The Owls changed coaches and approaches. In a show of unity, they took their names off the back of their jerseys and instead had “FAU.”
“Sometimes you need a slap in the face to refocus,” defensive end Andrew Stryffeler, a captain, told the Associated Press. “This wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, but we really took the opportunity to step it up.”
The Owls fell behind but rallied by scoring 27 consecutive points for a 34-17 win. They intercepted four passes, three thrown by Nick Montana. Owls corner D’Joun Smith had three picks – a school record – giving him seven this season, most in the country.
“This was real big,” Smith told the AP. “We still have our bowl game dreams alive.”
Said interim coach Brian Wright: “If you have hope, then you have something to play for.”
FAU (3-6) is off Saturday. It resumes its bowl chase Nov. 16 at Southern Miss (0-8), then welcomes New Mexico State (1-8) before closing against cross-town rival FIU (1-7).
C-USA has six bowl ties, but a spokesman told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel the league has called other bowl representatives and is confident all of its eligible teams will receive an invitation.
Aside from FAU, Louisiana Tech might have the best opportunity. The Bulldogs are 3-5 but have winnable games against Southern Miss and Tulsa (2-6) and then a potential winner-qualifies showdown against Texas-San Antonio (4-5).