Florida Atlantic University football has long been touted by Athletic Director Patrick Chun and the rest of the university community as a "rising" program, with many holding dreams of the Owls frequenting bowls and fighting for conference championships like they did earlier in the Howard Schnellenberger era.
Since 2009, those visions have mostly been just that, with only one bowl eligible season in the past four years and three separate head coaches during that span. Tack on dwindling attendance figures - save for an orange and green filled FAU Stadium versus the University of Miami last season - while facing two straight losing seasons and things have taken a decidedly nightmarish turn for the program.
Those factors have seemingly combined to help shape FAU's non-conference schedule into a less-than-ideal situation for a team that should be trying to regain its status as a small-school power.
Taking a look at the next eight years, the Owls are currently slated to face an FCS opponent five times, as they will play Southern Illinois, Bethune-Cookman twice, Fordham and Ohio Northern.
The Owls schedule also has a decidedly Midwest feel to it. On top of the fact the only local FCS opponent will be Bethune-Cookman, five of their six games against power five opponents - Kansas State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Illinois and Chun's former university Ohio State- will be played within the center of the country.
Adding on to those games up north will be matchups with multiple Mid-American Conference opponents a year removed from a loss to Buffalo at home. Ball State, Buffalo and Ohio will all line up to give Owls fans their fair share of #MACtion for years to come.
It may be those games made from Midwest connections- which made Chun a finalist for the AD job at Illinois a few months ago - that are holding the Owls back from playing those stronger opponents they need to continue their forward push toward relevance.
FAU could be seen as having weakened their schedule for the first time in their FBS history, as they play an FCS opponent for the first time since 2012. In their last matchup versus Wagner, the Owls trailed for most of the game in a 7-3 "shootout" victory to open the 2012-13 season.
This year's season opening opponent (Southern Illinois) nearly beat Indiana to open last season, as well as playing a close game versus North Dakota State. SIU showed they are no slouch against better teams from both the FBS and FCS.
Without a sure bet at starting quarterback and the graduation of top wide receiver Jenson Stoshak, Owls fans should not chalk this one up as a victory just yet.
The strength of FAU's opponents also plays into their scheduling struggles. The Owls are not playing the cream of the crop in the MAC, with the exception of a rising Ohio. The three scheduled teams have gone a total of 32-40 over the past two years.
The Owls currently do not have a bowl eligible G5 team on their schedule for the 2016-17 and 2019-20 seasons. In between that time, they will face the same amount FCS opponents (3) in the next five years than bowl eligible G5 counterparts (3).
Those types of numbers don't have the Owls blowing off the doors of Conference USA. Only Charlotte and North Texas play as many FCS games in the next three years as FAU.
Understandably, there is a need to fill space on the schedule for the future and many teams can't guarantee that they will be available for a future date. But for the Owls to gain some type of notoriety within the state, they must start playing those bigger local teams more often.
FAU is 11-13 when playing against teams in the state of Florida, but only are 1-9 if you take away its record versus Florida International University. While increasing their recruiting clout with a few well-regarded recruiting classes, the team has not pushed themselves into those types of meetings that help establish your profile and get into the conversation within the state.
Matchups against Miami and Florida proved the Owls should be trying to pursue games within their state more often. The Owls took Miami to the half tied at 20 before losing in the second half. The Owls also played a quarterback-less Gators team down to the wire in overtime. In both cases, the Owls had games that caused some excitement within the program during a mostly forgettable season.
There is still plenty of time for the Owls to continue scheduling opponents as they have multiple open slots in their schedule after 2016. It remains to be seen what the team will do with their remaining slots, but if FAU doesn't try to compete against its local competition, its status as a rising team has to be questioned.