For FAU, chance to host Miami is a very big deal
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) The football stadium at Florida Atlantic opened in 2011, and has already seen a handful of significant events.
Thing is, very few of them involved football.
Florida State won the national championship in women's Division I soccer there last December, a couple weeks before FAU played host to the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl. The U.S. men's national soccer teams have played there a handful of times - World Cup star Carli Lloyd, longtime American standout Abby Wambach and Boca Raton native Jozy Altidore have all scored at FAU while wearing the red, white and blue.
But Friday night is FAU's chance to shine, when the Owls (0-1) host Miami (1-0). The biggest home crowd in FAU history is expected, about 30,000 in a stadium that hasn't seen 10,000 on some game days. It's a perfect scenario for FAU, the classic trade-off of having everything to gain and very little to lose.
''We understand it's the game that can move us up and have us shock the world,'' said FAU's Greg Howell, who ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the Owls' loss at Tulsa on Saturday. ''We don't harp on it too much, haven't been doing a lot of `Miami this, Miami that.' It's not like that. But we know what time it'll be when it comes to that game and we'll handle our business.''
It carries personal significance to Howell. He went to high school in Coral Gables, just a couple miles from the University of Miami. One of the players he modeled his game after while growing up was former Miami star Clinton Portis. Howell even had some thoughts about playing his college ball for the Hurricanes, which made sense given his desire to stay close to home.
Instead, he'll now try to beat them.
''I want them to enjoy this,'' FAU coach Charlie Partridge said. ''This is one of those moments that I want them to embrace it, to enjoy it and prepare with that kind of embrace as well.''
Partridge is seeking some sense of normalcy amid the hubbub that's sweeping his campus this week, and 45 miles to the south Miami coach Al Golden is finding himself in a similar situation.
The Hurricanes know this game is a big deal for the Owls. Golden would rather Miami take a business-as-usual approach.
''We're just excited about the opportunity to play again. That's it,'' said Golden, whose team hosted FAU in 2013 and won 34-6. ''The rest of it, we really don't want to get involved in. We want to be a consistent team. We want to focus on what we can control and do the things that we have to do to be consistent and improve every day. We know who we're playing. We know the energy they're going to have. We know the challenge that awaits us.''
There's more than 50 players on the FAU roster who hail from South Florida locales. It's not unusual for Miami to see opponents from the talent-rich area every week, so they know it's a big deal for players from their backyard to face off against the Hurricanes.
''It's going to be a great crowd, our fans, their fans,'' Miami running back Mark Walton said. ''What we've got to do is not pay attention to the hype and go out there and just play football.''
Even the FAU players who didn't grow up around Miami understand the significance.
''It's going to be big for people in this area,'' said FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson, a native of Starkville, Mississippi. ''I'm not really from this area but for me, it's still a big game. I played them my first year here and I'm looking forward to playing them again and having a better chance in the game.''
Oddsmakers don't give FAU much of a chance: The Owls are 17-point underdogs.
That doesn't matter to Howell.
''This is the game that I know everybody from my neighborhood is going to watch, no matter what,'' Howell said. ''It's the game that everybody's eyes are going to be on me and our team.''