FAU has been competing in the Football Bowl Subdivision for just three seasons. More impressively, the school only began playing football on any level in 2001, making it the fastest start-up program to land a bowl bid. The school is 40-42 all-time, and 14-21 at the major level.
Howard Schnellenberger coaches the Owls and - make no mistake - that's why they are here. Schnellenberger was the head coach at Miami when the 'Canes won their first national title in 1983.
Both schools enter this game with momentum. FAU has won four of its last six with one of the losses coming at Florida. A 38-32 upset win at Troy in the season finale gave the Owls (7-5) this bowl bid, and left the Trojans (8-4) sitting at home for the holidays.
The Tigers won five of their last six games, including an upset of Southern Miss in Hattiesburg. The only loss in that stretch was to East Carolina which is headed to the Hawai'i Bowl. It should be noted, however, that the other four victories came against schools that tallied a combined total of 10 wins (Rice, Tulane, UAB and SMU) and the Blazers were the only team in that weak group that Memphis defeated by more than three points.
FAU defeated just two teams with records of .500 or better - Troy and Louisiana-Monroe (6-6). But its biggest win came in the second week of the season when the Owls downed Minnesota 42-39 at home.
The Owls are led by QB Rusty Smith who threw for 3,352 yards with 27 TD's and just 8 INT's. Cortez Gent hauled in 61 passes for 1,030 yards and 9 TD's. Jason Harmon had 56 catches for 728 yards and 4 scores.
Memphis returns to the postseason for the fourth time in the last five years after missing the 2006 season when the Tigers collapsed to a 2-10 finish.
The Tigers finished 3rd in CUSA in total offense, and 23rd in the nation. They ranked 2nd in the conference in passing, and 12th in the country. QB Martin Hankins threw for 2,939 yards with 22 TD's and 12 INT's. Duke Calhoun, Carlos Singleton and Maurice Jones each had at least 634 yards in receptions and averaged over 14 yards per catch. Singleton caught 10 TD passes.
Troy's win last year, and North Texas' victory in 2002, are the only wins by the Sun Belt representative in the previous six New Orleans Bowls. In fact, they are the only bowl victories (2-7) by Sun Belt teams since the league became an FBS conference in 2001.