MIAMI - Florida Atlantic and Florida International accepted invitations Thursday to join the Sun Belt Conference in football beginning next season, paving the way for their move to Division I-A.
Florida International already is a member of the Sun Belt in all other sports, and Florida Atlantic is a member of the Atlantic Sun. Both have been I-AA independents in football.
FAU will join the Sun Belt in other sports at an undetermined date, possibly as soon as 2005, athletic director Craig Angelos said. Both schools would spend the 2004 and '05 seasons as conditional I-A members before gaining full membership in 2006.
FAU started playing football in 2001, and FIU followed a year later. Coached by Howard Schnellenberger, FAU is 10-2 and faces Northern Arizona on Saturday for a spot in the I-AA semifinals. FIU went 2-10 and finished the season with a 32-23 loss to FAU.
ALL-STAR BULLS: Three South Florida seniors will play in all-star games. Linebacker Maurice Jones was invited to the Hula Bowl (Jan. 17 in Hawaii), Gridiron Classic and Blue-Gray Classic (Dec. 25 at Troy State); safety J.R. Reed the Gridiron Classic; and receiver Huey Whittaker the Blue-Gray Classic. Coach Jim Leavitt said Reed also might be invited to the Blue-Gray Classic, and running back DeJuan Green is an alternate at two games.
The Gridiron Classic (Jan. 31), which pits players with Florida connections against a national all-star team, moved from the Citrus Bowl to The Villages, about an hour north of Tampa off I-75. A stadium is being erected around the community polo field. Practices during the week will be held at the Citrus Bowl. Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez and Georgia's Mark Richt are the coaches.
C-USA HONORS: Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams was named Conference USA offensive player of the year after leading the Tigers to their first bowl berth since 1971. Williams set a school record with 1,430 rushing yards and leads the nation with 192.1 all-purpose yards per game.
Southern Miss linebacker Rod Davis, who led the Golden Eagles to the league title and made 148 tackles, was named defensive player of the year. Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb, who passed for 23 touchdowns with just four interceptions, is freshman of the year, and TCU kicker Nick Browne, who is tied for the national lead with 27 field goals, earned special teams player of the year.
Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower was named coach of the year after guiding the Golden Eagles to their fourth league title in eight seasons and an 8-0 mark in C-USA play.
MANNING AWARD: Ole Miss' Eli Manning won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation's top senior quarterback, an honor his brother Peyton received in 1997. Eli Manning has thrown for 3,341 yards and 27 TDs this season, leading 17th-ranked Ole Miss to a 9-3 record. Manning holds 45 school records, 27 that were once held by his father, Archie.
CROOM TARGETS VOL: New Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom is courting Tennessee running backs coach Woody McCorvey to become his offensive coordinator. McCorvey told the Tennessean (Nashville) he had been offered the position and planned to make a decision by early next week.
DUKE COACH?: Ted Roof will be the next coach, the Associated Press reported late Wednesday. Roof, the Blue Devils' defensive coordinator, was 2-3 as interim coach after Carl Franks was fired.
STAFF CHANGES: Illinois defensive coordinator Mike Cassity was fired after the Illini finished 1-11, their worst season since 1997. Illinois gave up an average of 427 yards, second worst in the Big Ten. ... Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Rick Smith was fired after the 5-7 Bulldogs finished last in the nation in total defense.
UCLA: Sophomore quarterback Matt Moore plans to transfer next week and will not play in the Dec. 30 Silicon Valley Bowl.
- Staff writer Pete Young contributed to this report.