With Fall camp right around the corner the 2016 season is almost upon us. CUSA Media days came and went and FAU was picked to finish fourth in CUSA East.
For the next few weeks I'll be breaking down FAU's schedule to determine if the Owls can prove the media wrong. Today we rank the 12 games on FAU's schedule from least to most important.
With there being no clear favorite in CUSA East as Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, and Marshall have all been mentioned at some point this offseason as good bets to win the division, picking the most important game on FAU's schedule was a bit of a challenge.
The game I declared as the most important may shock you.
Snooze Fest Tier
12. vs. Southern Illinois (Sept. 3)
11. vs. Charlotte (Oct. 8)
Both of these games should be easy wins as SIU is an FCS opponent and due to Charlotte still adapting to life as an FBS member, they pretty much are an FCS opponent too (no offense Charlotte). Since the 49ers are in CUSA they get the nod of not being the least important game on the schedule.
Any Given Saturday Tier
10. vs. Ball State (Sept. 24)
9. At Rice (Nov. 5)
8. vs. UTEP (Nov. 12)
7. vs. Old Dominion (Nov. 19)
Really you could make an argument for any combination of 9-7 and I would be fine with it. The Ball State game is essentially last year's matchup with Buffalo, as it will be another litmus test for the Owls to prove they have turned the corner as a program.
The matchup against Rice sets up as a revenge game after FAU blew last year's game in the final minute. UTEP the following week could have postseason ramifications as both teams could enter that game with a chance of clinching bowl eligibility. Old Dominion and FAU have split their last two meetings as both have won on each other's senior day. This year FAU will host Old Dominion with a chance at stopping that trend.
Honestly I could see FAU winning all four games or going 1-3. Aspirations of a bowl game will likely be determined by FAU's win-loss record in this grouping.
Program Defining Tier
6. At Kansas State (Sept. 17)
5. At Miami (Sept. 10)
FAU is 1-29 all-time against Power Five programs. With the amount of talent Charlie Partridge has brought in its only a matter of time before FAU gets their second win against a P5 team. A win against either of these teams would be a watershed moment in FAU history.
Kansas State almost lost to a CUSA team last year as they needed three overtimes to defeat Louisiana Tech. Maybe FAU can give the Wildcats a run for their money too.
The matchup against Miami is significant given the ties both schools have with Howard Schnellenberger. Add in the fact how many South Florida prospects will be watching this game and the importance speaks for itself. A win against Miami would be FAU's best win in school history and would definitely put CUSA on notice.
The Big FOUR
4. vs. Western Kentucky (Oct. 29)
3. At Middle Tennessee (Nov. 26)
2. vs. FIU (Oct. 1)
1. At Marshall (Oct. 15)
To be clear FIU is FAU's biggest rival. The Owls have split the last two meetings against FIU under Partridge on the field but on the trail Partridge has recruited circles around Ron Turner. Winning the Shula Bowl will always be priority number one for FAU but its not the most important game of the season as the Owls have bigger fish to fry.
The only program FAU has yet to surpass on National Signing Day is Marshall and one of the main reasons is because FAU has never defeated the Herd. Doc Holliday has thrived off of recruiting the state of Florida, especially South Florida (19 players on Marshall's roster hail from Florida, eight are from South Florida).
After last year's game Holliday and Partridge had a weird dustup while shaking hands so some animosity exists between the two coaches. The Herd has been a thorn in FAU's side since joining CUSA and the only way to stop that trend is to beat Marshall.
Middle Tennessee and WKU are benchmark games for where FAU stands in CUSA. The Hilltoppers won CUSA last season and boast another stellar team this year. MTSU was picked to win CUSA East this season and they have owned FAU dating back to when the two programs used to be in the Sun Belt as they have won eight straight over the Owls.
With this year's game taking place on the last week of the season MTSU could stand in the Owls way of going to a bowl game. If you believe FAU should be able to do more than qualify for a bowl and win CUSA East going 2-2 out of these four games is an absolute must.
But as long as Marshall is racking in ten-win seasons and getting talent out of South Florida they pose as the biggest threat to FAU emerging as a power in CUSA which is why I believe they are the most important game on this year's schedule.