BOCA RATON — It's been more than 700 days since FAU has won a Sun Belt Conference football game. Since then, the Owls have dropped their past 14 games against Sun Belt competition, setting a new record in futility in the conference.
FAU coach Carl Pelini has been at the helm for four of those losses in this, his first season as the head coach of the Owls. The losing streak didn't start with him, but it's his job to end it.
The Owls will have a chance to do so Saturday at FAU Stadium when the five-time conference champion Troy Trojans (4-3, 3-2) come to town. The Owls enter Saturday's game as they have entered their past 10 conference contests, as underdogs.
How the Owls came to hold the most unenviable record in the Sun Belt Conference is a hotly debated issue. Failures in recruiting by Howard Schnellenberger's coaching staff in the coach's final two years certainly came into play. Despite the school being in the center of the single-most fertile area for high school football prospects in the country, the FAU recruiting classes of 2010 and 2011 were ranked by Rivals.com as the worst and sixth-worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision, respectively.
Bad recruiting classes don't necessarily mean a lack of success, but if you ask Pelini, who inherited a team comprised of mostly players from those classes, player development in those years lacked as well.
"Hopefully we're starting to educate them," Pelini said. "I think they trust us a little more ... but we don't have that character yet."
While the Owls have been outscored 471-200 since that last Sun Belt win, there have been chances to break the streak.
Last week, FAU collapsed in the fourth quarter, surrendering 14 unanswered points in the final six minutes to South Alabama, only to have both a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of regulation and a game-tying field goal in double overtime blocked.
Pelini said last week's game haunted him, going as far to say that if put in the same position again he would have faked the game-winning field goal. Pelini maintains that after looking at the film, the Owls would have walked into the end zone.
But Mitch Anderson didn't throw it, and FAU's last conference victory remains its Nov. 13, 2010, win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Before Pelini accepted the head coaching job in Boca Raton, the Owls had another close game they couldn't finish. That was an Oct. 1 matchup with Louisiana-Lafayette last season at Cajun Field.
Graham Wilbert brought the Owls back from a 14-point deficit in the final six minutes, but ULL quarterback Blaine Gautier drove the Ragin' Cajuns 65 yards down the field, setting up Brett Baer's game-winning 26-yard field goal that went through the uprights as time expired.
"For the lack of a better word, we choked. That's the only way I can put it," FAU's Jarvis Givens would say after the game.
Graham Wilbert has been at the helm of the FAU offense for 11 of the 14 losses (he missed last year's 20-0 loss to Western Kentucky with an arm injury and was not the starter in 2010, when the streak started.) In that time, he has seen plenty of poor games, but last week's effort gives him hope the Owls can break the streak soon.
"We're not thinking about it anymore," Wilbert said of the streak. "That was the best game we've put together so far. When we can do it for four quarters, it could be nice."
The Owls might be hard pressed to find a win for the remainder of the season. Save for a Nov. 16 matchup with archrival FIU (1-7), the Owls will play exclusively teams that, as of this week, hold a winning record. After Troy, the Owls take on Navy, and Sun Belt championship contenders Western Kentucky and ULL.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun