Our Marcus Nelson says maybe a break in the FAU-FIU series isn't such a bad thing, but hopefully the Shula Bowl will return soon.
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When it comes to college football's great rivalries, the Florida Atlantic-Florida International game will never be confused with Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn or Texas-Oklahoma.
But at two schools devoid of tradition – one of the key ingredients which makes college football great – there at least was The Shula Bowl when the winner of the FAU-FIU game could take home The Don Shula Trophy presented sometimes by the godfather of football in South Florida himself. Sometimes it would be a relative of Shula's. Sometimes no one at all was there to hand the trophy to the victors.
The Shula Bowl at least gave Owl and Panthers fans one game a year to look forward to that was more important than any other.
Unfortunately, Friday's Shula Bowl at FAU Stadium could be the last one ever. FIU is making a move (a lateral one, many say) to Conference USA and doesn't have room for FAU on its non-conference schedules for a few years.
I hope the series continues someday, but perhaps a hiatus for a few years isn't such a bad thing. Sometimes the rivalry seems to me missing some energy. It's been lopsided (The Owls hold a commanding 8-2 edge and that's even if you count the Panthers' victory vacated in 2006) and one gets the feeling that it's bigger to FAU than FIU.
I think after a few years both programs will realize they need a natural rival to create interest and excitement around their programs.
Like teenagers who have been dating a while, maybe FAU and FIU should take a break and start seeing other people. Maybe that's what it will take for them both to realize they have a good thing going here.
Hopefully in a few years the Shula Bowl will be back with a little more intensity. Whether you want it to be more competitive depends on who you cheer for, but both schools benefit from The Shula Bowl even if one of the schools never realized it.
Keys To The Game: Panthers @ Owls
Key For Owls
Rock Rhodes: FIU running back Kedrick Rhodes has been injured for most of the season, missing two games, but appears to be getting back on track. Rhodes had 149 yards on 27 carries in the Panthers' last game vs. South Alabama and had an extra week of work to get ready for the Owls. Stopping Rhodes, who had 122 rushing yards in last year's Shula Bowl, must be a priority for the Owls.
Key For Panthers
Protect the QB: The Panthers have given up 30 sacks this season, the most in the Sun Belt Conference. FAU has only gotten to the QB 11 times, the fewest in the conference, but the defensive front has been playing more aggressive recently and has a chance to disrupt FIU's offense by rattling QB Jake Medlock.
FAU DB Keith Reaser vs. FIU WR Wayne Times: Reaser had an interception and a fumble recovery last week vs. WKU and could get plenty of chances for another big play if he covers Times, who has caught 50 passes this season and is Medlock's favorite target.
- 5 – Number of venues to have played host to a Shula Bowl after Friday's game (SunLife Stadium, FIU Stadium, Lockhart Stadium, Orange Bowl and FAU Stadium)
- 27.8 – Average kickoff yards per return for FIU's Richard Leonard, the second best in the Sun Belt.
- 201.1 – Passing yards per game allowed by FAU, the best in the Sun Belt.