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3-0 Owls no longer the underdogs
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kalca Offline
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By Ted Hutton
Staff Writer
Posted October 4 2004

After Florida Atlantic had entered its first three games as underdogs and won all three by a touchdown, Owls defensive lineman Yrvens Guerrier said he could get used to being underestimated.

"I hope we stay underdogs. There are less expectations, but when you get that win it's that much better than when you are expected to win," Guerrier said.

The problem for Guerrier and the Owls is their fast start has ensured that they will probably be the underdogs in only two or three of their remaining nine games.

FAU (3-0) will be favored when the Owls resume their hurricane-interrupted schedule Saturday at Texas State and again the following week at Northern Colorado. FAU beat both teams last year, and has all but two starters back. The Owls are also in the process of moving up to Division I-A while Texas State and Northern Colorado are I-AA teams.

"It's role reversal for us. We have to learn to play as a favorite," senior quarterback Jared Allen said.

Sport psychologists said there is a basis for Guerrier's wish, that it can be easier to handle the label of underdog rather than favorite.

"As underdog you focus less on the outcome and more on what you must do to succeed on each play," said Doug Hankes, a sport psychologist at Auburn. "When you are a favorite, players can be more outcome focused, thinking that they are supposed to win. Then they forget about the little things they need to do to win."

"There is a danger they won't have the same intensity, and there can be fear of failure rather than expectation of success," said Frank Webbe, president of the American Psychological Association's Sport Psychology Division.

Another reason FAU may not like the role of favorite is it knows what it's like for an underdog to win, since they have done it in every game this season.

"That is a real fear," Hankes said. "And then if you get behind, you get more anxious and that can make you lose focus. As an underdog, there is less chance for anxiety since there are lower expectations. You are supposed to be the weaker team and you should get beat."

Defensive coordinator Kirk Hoza understands the situation, having been in it as a coach and player.

"People that have some grit respond to adversity. When you are in a corner, you say to yourself, `I want to change this environment.' When everything is rosy, it's a lot easier to lose focus. Success spoils us a little bit," Hoza said.

Hoza does not think the Owls will have a problem due to the maturity of the team, which has more than 30 seniors.

"This isn't their first rodeo. They've been on both ends of it, having been underdogs and won, favored and lost, and by now they should know what it takes to win in any kind of situation," Hoza said.

Webbe agrees that FAU's experience should help.

"Once an athlete experiences what happens when they get too cocky, they are not likely to let it happen again," Webbe said. "A young team will sit on its laurels more, and then they will be in for a rude awakening.

"FAU should be in good shape, especially with [Howard] Schnellenberger as coach. With his experience, there is no way they should get complacent," Webbe said.

Schnellenberger began laying the psychological groundwork after FAU's second upset, a 20-13 win over North Texas.

"We're not going to sneak up on anyone anymore," Schnellenberger said, warning his players to expect the best effort from every opponent.

The Owls then beat Middle Tennessee State, snapping out of a sleepwalk in the first half when they got down 17-6 and coming back to win 27-20.

"Being underdog gives you a lift because you get upset about it. On other hand you start wondering are we really not as good as that team," Schnellenberger said. "The converse is true if you get picked as favorite, and you have to worry about getting fat-headed.

"... It's a complex subject and it's hard to put a definitive answer on any of this. I would just prefer to go into every game as an odds-on favorite."

Webbe said leadership from the coaches and players will be important in setting the right tone going into the games.

"They have a lot of fifth-year seniors and they don't have to worry about novelty factors," Webbe said. "There is no reason in the world they won't do well as favorites. They have the right stuff psychologically."

Senior linebacker Chris Laskowski is one of the team's leaders, and he said last year's 45-17 loss to Division II Valdosta State taught FAU a lesson.

"We know we have to keep that intensity, that hunger you feel as an underdog. Everyone's gunning for us, and we have to prepare for every game like we did for Hawaii," Laskowski said.

That was the season opener for the Owls. They went into the game as much as 21-point underdogs and beat the Warriors 35-28 in overtime.

"You know the feeling when you beat Hawaii and when you lose to Valdosta, and you have to remind yourself about that so you work just as hard in practice," Laskowski said.

Ted Hutton can be reached at thutton@sun-sentinel.com.

Copyright 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
10-04-2004 09:25 AM
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