In Tampa this past Thursday and Friday, football coaches from the state of Florida met for the annual Florida Sports Writers Association Media Days.
As usual, Howard Schnellenberger did what he does best: He avoided “coach speak” and made some colorful and candid remarks. But then, in what appeared to be an attempt to draw attention to his program, Coach Schnellenberger bit off more than he could chew.
When a reporter made mention of the state’s traditional “Big Three,” Schnellenberger became irritated and cut in, saying, "Wait a minute. How about the Big Seven?”
While Florida State and Miami have clearly lost their luster, Schnellenberger’s assertion that UCF, FAU, and FIU are on the same level as the other state teams is just plain silly.
I have no issue with throwing USF (South Florida) into the mix. The Bulls, in my opinion, are clearly a better team than both FSU and Miami, and would give Florida a run for the money as well.
But UCF (Central Florida), FAU (Florida Atlantic), and FIU (Florida International)?
Spreading his hands about an inch apart, Schnellenberger declared, "We're only about this far apart. All of us. And y'all better get used to it.”
Gosh, I wish I could have been in the room at that moment.
Coach Schnellenberger has made a lot of fans over the years by turning around programs and bucking traditional football trends. But Schnellenberger must realize that this is not 1983. What were once quirky and funny comments are now bordering on “crazy old guy” status.
Let’s start with FIU and UCF.
Florida International is an embarrassing 1-22 in the last two years. After going 0-21, FIU somehow sprang an upset on North Texas in the final game of last season.
The only other news FIU football has made was its despicable brawl with Miami in 2006.
As for UCF: Two years ago, Florida blanked UCF 42-0 in a game that was over by halftime. Up 34-0 at the break, Florida put everyone but the team manager in during a boring second half. The Knights managed a meager 153 total yards on the night.
Last season, Jim Leavitt’s South Florida Bulls destroyed them 64-12, making the Knights 0-2 against USF. This “rivalry” has one more year to its agreement this season. If UCF doesn’t put up a fight in year three, it’s likely these two won’t meet again anytime soon.
Sure, UCF’s record was 10-4 last year, and they almost pulled a shocker against Texas. But for a team that racked up 36 points a game, and a school record 62 touchdowns, the Knights were held to three points in a 10-3 loss to Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl.
And then there’s always that pesky 0-18 all-time record versus ranked opponents.
Finally, we come to Schnellenberger’s FAU squad. Yes, the Owls won the Sun Belt and their first ever bowl game last season.
But a closer look at the Owls’ season makes it appear less like the masterpiece Schnellenberger tries to make it out to be.
For starters, FAU’s “rival” is Florida International, whose football atrocities have already been documented.
Then there’s the head-to-head matchup with the Gators last year, in which Florida throttled the Owls 59-20. Even against Florida’s porous defense, FAU’s high-powered offense put up zero second-half points.
Schnellenberger’s boys didn’t exactly come up big against other well-known programs either, losing 45-17 to Kentucky and 42-6 to Oklahoma State.
However, in a surprisingly close game, the Owls lost 35-23 to a sluggish USF team in a game that was even closer than the score indicated. Regardless, the game still shows up in the L column.
When you run your mouth about the “Big Seven,” moral victories don’t cut it.
And while FAU did beat Big-10 rep Minnesota, who didn’t? The Gophers went winless in Big 10 action on their way to a 1-11 season, giving FAU the distinction of beating not one, but two 1-11 teams last year.
A couple of tough games like that makes the SEC’s highly criticized out-of-conference scheduling look brutal.
Schnellenberger was also quick to point out that FAU was the only Florida team to win a bowl last season. Perhaps he forgot it was the New Orleans Bowl, and their opponent was 7-6 Memphis, who registered a loss to lowly Ole Miss and got hammered 56-20 by UCF.
An inch, coach? More like a mile.
Then, of course, there are the coaching polls, of which Schnellenberger made a mockery at season’s end.
As if his Big 12 votes weren’t crazy enough—he ranked Kansas No. 2, Missouri at four, and Oklahoma at seven—Schnellenberger voted Hawaii No. 3 (with Georgia back at eight, naturally).
He also put Southern Cal at No. 12, behind Boston College, West Virginia, and Boise State—and relegated Florida (the same Florida that crushed his team) to No. 21, six spots behind any other coach in the nation.
Don’t believe me, click here. (And check out Hal Mumme's votes while you're at it.)
Schnellenberger’s votes aren’t quirky, and they certainly aren’t funny. They’re criminal.
I’m sure Coach Schnellenberger supporters are out there screaming that the clever coach just likes to ruffle some feathers—that it’s all part of his style. That may be so, but what happened to Coach Schnellenberger’s mojo when reporters brought up his alleged guaranteed win over Texas?
"I've been quoted as saying we were going to beat Texas," Schnellenberger said. "I was misquoted. I only said that if we work hard and practice to our capabilities, we have a chance to win the game.”
There are four games that matter to FAU this season—and they are the first four games of the year.
As mentioned, the Owls open by heading to Austin. In week two, the Owls face a mediocre Conference-USA team in UAB (2-10 last season) at home, followed by trips to Michigan State and Minnesota.
So it’s put up or shut, coach. Win two of those games, and no one will pay attention. Three, and we’ll start listening. Win all four, and then you can join the Big Seven.