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June 10, 2013

C-USA Newcomers: FAU

As the dog days of summer approach and football season slowly creeps back into view, C-USA has shifted once again in the college football pecking order. After the departure of seven of the conference's twelve schools to the newly formed American Athletic Conference, C-USA was forced to partake in the merry-go-round of conference realignment. Plucking schools from the Sun Belt, Atlantic 10, and CAA, C-USA added 9 new teams to its membership over the course of the next two years.

New members like Louisiana Tech and Charlotte will probably be familiar to most Golden Eagle fans, but other programs like UTSA and Old Dominion will provide the conference with fresh new faces. Because of that, BigGoldNation will be breaking down each new team over the course of the next few weeks in an attempt to get you acclimated with the schools who will be joining Southern Miss in the future of C-USA.

Florida Atlantic University:

FAU is a young school by typical American college standards. The university was founded in 1961 and didn't start playing intercollegiate athletics until 1979. But with a student population of almost 30,000 and seven campuses parceled throughout the state of Florida, FAU is definitely a school C-USA can help mold into a new and improved UCF - minus the obnoxious fans in cargo shorts. Plus, the main campus is in Boca Raton. What's not to love?

Football:

The Owls didn't have much of a struggle climbing out of the depths of Division II after the football program was founded in 2001. FAU became the youngest school in NCAA history to make the jump to Division I when, after just four years, Florida Atlantic joined the Sun Belt in 2005. It doesn't hurt when your first ever head coach is the legendary Howard Schellenberger, and the Owls used Schellenberger's expertise in building programs to enjoy marginal success during their early years.

FAU won the Sun Belt in 2007 with an 8-5 record and played in the program's first bowl game, a 44-27 romp of Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl. This appearance made the Owls the youngest school to ever win a post-season game in college football history. But despite these early achievements FAU has -for the most part - struggled to adjust to life in the big boy college football world.

The Owls have had 6 losing seasons in 8 years, and last year's team was nothing short of miserable. After Schellenberger's retirement in 2011, former Nebraska defensive coordinator (and brother of head coach Bo) Carl Pelini took over the reigns of the program and posted a 3-9 record in his first season.



What Florida Atlantic lacks in on-field success, they make up for in facilities. The Owls play in the creatively named FAU Stadium, which was built in 2011 at a cool cost of $70 million. Seating just under 30,000, FAU Stadium will provide the perfect backdrop for late afternoon C-USA clashes in the friendly confines of Boca Raton. This will definitely be one away trip most Southern Miss fans will want to make.

Fun Fact: The student tailgate area for FAU is called "The Rat's Mouth", which is about as cool as an actual rat's mouth.


Basketball:

FAU's basketball program is a lot older than the football team, but the Owls hoops squad is still extremely young in comparison to the veteran members of C-USA. Florida Atlantic first fielded a basketball team in 1988 and joined Division I in 1993. Since that time FAU has undergone six coaching changes and posted just two winning seasons, despite the fact they have two conference tournament championships (one in the Atlantic Sun and one in the Sun Belt).

This is a program that has experienced very little success and won't pose an immediate threat to the top basketball programs in the league. In fact, the best thing FAU brings to C-USA for the foreseeable future is a fairly easy win. But just like the football team, Florida Atlantic basketball boasts some pretty sweet digs. The Burrow (as it is known) seats 5,000 and received a $10 million renovation in 2007.



Fun Fact: FAU's first SEC victory came in 2010 against Mississippi State. The game was not State's first loss to a Sun Belt team.

Baseball:

Baseball is the one sport FAU can come into the league and compete in right away. I know we like our streaks in Hattiesburg so Southern Miss fans will be able to appreciate what the Owls have done on the diamond. Florida Atlantic boasts 12 consecutive winning seasons and 5 conference championships in the program's history. FAU has made a regional twice in the past 3 years and has even played in a Super Regional.

It was the baseball program's early success that helped propel FAU's basketball team into Division I play. Because the team started out so well, the A-Sun made Florida Atlantic a member in basketball as well.

FAU is regarded by many as a "mid-major powerhouse" and the Owls have consistently been successful for nearly 25 years.

Former coach Kevin Cooney led Florida Atlantic to a school-record 680 wins in his 20-year career in Boca Raton and is known as the father of FAU baseball. His aggressive recruiting and excellent coaching helped make the program a national contender.

Cooney retired in 2008 and was replaced by long-time assistant coach John McCormack. FAU is a great baseball addition that will only get better as they grow in a traditional baseball league. Look for this team to pose an immediate threat to the top tier of C-USA.

The Owls play in FAU Stadium (these guys are really creative when it comes to names). The 2,000-seat park has hosted some of Florida's best teams and is a quaint place to catch a baseball game.



Fun Fact: FAU lost its 2013 regional championship to North Carolina this year despite tying the game with 6 runs in the 9th inning - including a grand slam. Yep, these guys are ready to join C-USA.

Please enjoy this is a free read from BigGoldNation.com. For more exclusive reporting and analysis click here for a 7-Day Free Trial.

Cory Gunkel is the new contributor at BigGoldNation.com. Follow him on Twitter @CoryGunkel or email him at cory.gunkel@yahoo.com

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