Thursday night's matchup with the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns will display the reason that Florida Atlantic coaxed Howard Schnellenberger out of retirement in May of 1998.

The Owls have already begun their first Sun Belt Conference football season, losing narrowly to UL Monroe two weeks ago, but Thursday's game will begin a six-game run of league games for an FAU team that's 0-5.

But the Owl faithful aren't as concerned about the record as they are FAU's continued progress as a football program, and Schnellenberger says the Sun Belt is making that progress possible.

"This league gave us the opportunity to get to I-A quicker than we thought," Schnellenberger said. "Our biggest goal this year was to be competitive in the Sun Belt and compete for the championship."

Competitive would be the operative word, especially since the Owls have been overmatched by two ranked opponents - 46-7 at Minnesota and 61-10 at Louisville - in games surrounding the 28-21 loss to ULM.

But Schnellenberger found pluses for his team in those games.

"We got a great bunch of positives in technical football, and our kids got a chance to relate to what it's like to play at the highest level," he said. "Each of our players knows now what they have to do to attain the level we've been playing against.

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Dan McDonald