MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) - Throughout training camp, Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini tried to avoid any use of the word "Miami" when addressing his team and his staff.
His players apparently did not adhere to such a policy.
Having a chance to play the Hurricanes for the first time is clearly a big deal to the Owls, whose home stadium is only about 35 miles north of the venue where they'll meet Miaminight in the season-opener for both teams. The Hurricanes are favored by nearly five touchdowns, which doesn't seem to be deterring the Owls' hopes much.
"Not being from here, I never truly understood it," said FAU offensive lineman Mustafa Johnson, a native of Corona, Calif. "But to the Florida guys, it means a great deal to them. A lot of these guys are Miami-Dade and things like that, and they have friends over there and guys they played with and grew up with. From being around them, I've learned it's something they're passionate about and excited about."
Miami will pay tribute to its 1983 national championship team, the one coached by Howard Schnellenberger, who started the FAU program 15 years later.
"I wouldn't say I'm excited," Schnellenberger said. "Thrilled would be more appropriate."
It's not unusual for Miami to be playing in a game that has a rivalry feel, especially since so many college football rosters - not just in the Southeast, but around the country - are filled with guys who grew up playing in the talent-rich Sunshine State. This game is the first of four Miami will play against in-state foes this season, with Florida looming next week as well as later matchups with South Florida and Atlantic Coast Conference rival Florida State.
"There's a lot of people from down here, so they'll put this game high on their list," Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. "Our focus is, 'So what?' Let's go out there and play our ball. We've got our work laid out, so we'll be ready."
The Owls have lost 23 of their last 27 games, which might suggest that this is a matchup the Hurricanes could overlook, especially with the long-awaited game against the Gators coming next weekend.
But Miami insists that FAU has its full attention, based in large part around a game the Owls lost by 36 points last year.
Last, FAU went to Georgia and wound up losing 56-20. For the first quarter-and-a-half, though, FAU gave the then-No. 7 Bulldogs all they wanted, with the game tied at 14-14 after the first 23 minutes.
If nothing else, that showed Miami that FAU has some upset potential.
"We're looking at that game a lot," Miami receiver Allen Hurns said. "We're going to be up for this."
It's somewhat unusual these days for a college game to be playednight in the Miami area, with so many high schools typically making that their game night. It does give the Hurricanes an extra day to prep for the showdown with Florida, but it also gives FAU a chance to take advantage of a national television audience.
For Pelini, that was enough of a selling point, though he indicated a customarygame would have been preferable.
More importantly to him, he doesn't want the perceived rivalry to overshadow the game plan. He said FAU's most disappointing loss last season came against FIU, another school based in Miami - and because of that proximity, tensions ran high, and Pelini thought that kept his team from executing anywhere near its potential.
He doesn't want to see the same thing happen.
"You don't have to coach the emotion," Pelini said. "It's going to be there. You've got to coach the focus and the execution. That's what may get lost in the shuffle. Emotion's going to be there. Whether we'll be ready to play or not, our players will be emotionally ready when they take the field."