Shula Bowl Migrates To C-USA
By Peter Burke
When Florida Atlantic University announced it was leaving the Sun Belt Conference for greener pastures in Conference USA, the news fans and alumni met the news with optimism.
But the departure also would have potentially put an end to the annual rivalry with Florida International University, located about 60 miles to the South.
Of course, speculation about what would become of the rivalry only lasted a few short months. In the ever-evolving landscape of college football, it didn't take long for FIU to join its intrastate rival.
Adding FAU and FIU ensures that the C-USA retains its footprint in the Sunshine State (after the defection of the University of Central Florida to the Big East Conference). It also gives the C-USA two major television markets (FIU is located in Miami, which is the 16th-largest market in the country, and FAU's main campus is located in Boca Raton, which is part of market No. 38) and a built-in rivalry.
The parallels between the Owls and Panthers are vast, so it's only fitting that both programs begin a new era as C-USA members. Both teams joined the Sun Belt in 2005 after transitioning from the Football Championship Subdivision, and both programs have a Sun Belt title in the trophy case.
Affectionately known as the Shula Bowl, which got its name after longtime former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula, this rivalry has been an annual tradition since 2002, when FAU defeated the Panthers, 31-21, at the Dolphins' home stadium.
Former Dolphins quarterback Don Strock was the first head coach in FIU's history, but he was fired after a 0-12 season in 2006 and replaced by former Miami Hurricanes assistant coach Mario Cristobal. After two straight bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011, the Panthers limped to a 3-9 record last season, leading to Cristobal's ouster.
One of those three wins came against the Owls, giving FIU just its third victory in the history of the rivalry. The Panthers currently own a two-game winning streak against FAU.
The legendary Howard Schnellenberger led the Owls during their first 11 seasons. Schnellenberger notched an 8-2 record against the Panthers in his tenure.
Last season, former Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini took over after Schnellenberger's retirement and improved the Owls' overall win total from one in 2011 to three in 2012.
Ron Turner, who spent eight seasons at Illinois from 1997 to 2004, leads FIU into its first season of C-USA play.
Now, FAU and FIU will challenge for the C-USA East Division title each season. At stake for the winner is a potential extra home game in the C-USA Championship game, hosted by the team with the best winning percentage against league opponents.
The C-USA also gives both programs a chance to compete against college football's best, the SEC, in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The C-USA receives an automatic berth in the Memphis bowl game.