Debuting as a Division I-A football team - sort of - was a sweet honeymoon for Florida Atlantic last fall.
In its first year of transition from I-AA to I-A, the Owls toppled a few established I-A teams en route to a 9-3 record. In one three-week stretch, FAU beat Hawaii, North Texas and Middle Tennessee State - all on the road.
As part of its transitional phase, a full I-A slate wasn't required last year, so only seven I-A games were played. The Owls were 4-3.
The honeymoon might be over, though. FAU has 11 games on the slate this year, all against I-A opponents, and coach Howard Schnellenberger has a lot of talent to replace.
The Owls were senior-dominated in 2004, from quarterback Jared Allen to running backs Anthony Jackson and Doug Parker to linebackers Tyrone Higgins, Chris Laskowski and Chris McKinley. So experienced was FAU that 16 starters aren't back.
Seems as soon as something sturdy was built, it was time for Schnellenberger to tear it down and start over. But the veteran coach surely has seen such turnover before.
Schnellenberger has made the rounds of college and pro football, including two years as head coach of the NFL's Baltimore Colts, five years with the University of Miami, a decade with Louisville and one year with Oklahoma.
He has been at FAU since the football team's inception in 1998, became head coach in 2001 and has compiled a 26-21 record.
Now as a full-fledged I-A program, and as a rookie member of the Sun Belt Conference, the Owls have their hands fuller than ever. Three BCS-conference programs - Kansas University, Oklahoma State and Minnesota - open the schedule, and FAU will have two televised games to add.
Returning starters include two offensive linemen, a fullback, a defensive lineman, a linebacker and two cornerbacks. The secondary looks to be the strength, with cornerback Willie Hughley picking off 14 passes in his first three years with the Owls.
National pundits don't expect much from FAU in '05 - collegefootballnews.com predicted an 0-11 record.