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Palm Beach Post: Who is the Second Best Team in Florida?

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Oh, and there's a poll there, too...


Commentary: Who is second-best football school in Florida?

By Greg Stoda

Palm Beach Post Columnist

Monday, September 17, 2007

Florida is the best college football team in the state again this season, and whichever one is second isn't close.

But which one is second? Don't jump so fast to either Florida State or Miami in knee-jerk reaction. Here, for example, are my mid-September standings in the just-formed Sunshine State Conference: 1. Florida 2. South Florida 3. Central Florida 4. Florida State 5. Miami 6. Florida Atlantic 7. Florida International This isn't an evaluation about the overall strength of the programs, which would have the Big Three remaining as the Big Three in a Florida-Florida State-Miami alignment. There remains too much money and influence flowing through those corridors of power, but the on-field gap isn't as apparent at the moment.

South Florida has a road victory at Auburn.

Central Florida has beaten North Carolina State on the road and scared the longhorns off Texas in a dedication game of the Knights' new on-campus stadium last weekend. The truth of the matter is next month's Central Florida-South Florida game is every bit as compelling, perhaps moreso if history is taken out of the equation, as next month's Miami-Florida State contest.

Florida Atlantic beat Minnesota last weekend.

Florida International played Miami to a respectable count in a 23-9 loss. Again, last weekend.

What's the most impressive thing Florida State has done so far? Win at Colorado? What's the most impressive thing Miami has done so far? Win at home against Marshall? The whole conference-affiliation aspect of college football is overblown when affixed to any team other than the most elite. The North Carolina States (Atlantic Coast), Auburns (Southeastern) and Minnesotas (Big Ten) of this season's college football world don't, for example, scare a Central Florida (Confernce USA). And South Florida has made an impressive early statement on behalf of the Big East, which frequently is maligned as a Bowl Championship Series conference.

And be assured that a team such as Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt) can't wait to take a crack - and at home - at suddenly highly visible South Florida next month. The Owls want to be seen as gaining on Central Florida and South Florida just as much as Central Florida and South Florida want to be seen as gaining on - or passing - Florida State and Miami.

"Well, I don't know how far back we are," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said Monday afternoon, fresh from the victory against Minnesota and awaiting today's vote by trustees on the issue of building an on-campus stadium.

However the Owls position themselves almost certainly depends on whether they get a facility of their own constructed on their Boca Raton grounds, but Schnellenberger knows all about the recent differences - both small and large - on the football field itself.

"In 2003, the difference between them beating us and us beating them was the length of a football," Schnellenberger said of a 33-29 loss to Central Florida. "Roosevelt Bynes laid out full-extended and had the ball tickle his fingertips as he came up short on making the game-winning touchdown. Of course, South Florida whooped up on us the year before (51-10)." Schnellenberger, though, isn't the least bit surprised about progress being made by lesser-known teams making up ground on high-profile teams. He has no trouble envisioning an era when Florida, Florida State and Miami look sideways, not backwards, to view other in-state challengers.

"Absolutely," Schnellenberger said. "It's only natural. When you are playing in a competitive situation, the further you go, the more experience the underdogs have. And when you start getting those wins, the confidence level rises and those programs rise." Florida coach Urban Meyer has no doubt there's enough high school talent in the state to make more than three teams national powers.

"That's why everybody comes down here (to recruit)," Meyer said. "I'm surprised FAU and FIU haven't shot onto the charts faster, because of the amount of talent in this state." South Florida, he said, is "already there" with a place on college football's main stage. The Bulls, in fact, are ranked 23rd this week.

That would be sandwiched between Georgia and Nebraska, for perspective's sake, and ahead of every in-state neighbor other than the Gators.


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