Gamble, timing helps No. 15 UCF reach 1st BCS bowl
Throughout his tenure UCF coach George O’Leary has never backed
off the proclamation he made the day he was hired when he dubbed
the football program ”a sleeping giant.”
Ten years later, the 15th-ranked Knights are preparing to play
in the school’s first BCS bowl game on Jan. 1 against No. 6
It’s been whirlwind season for sure, but is a spot that even
O’Leary acknowledged Monday is happening a year earlier than he
envisioned for his relatively young team.
”When we showed up 10 years ago (the program) was a low point
because there weren’t any players here that could really win
football games,” he said. ”So we did what we should do with a
coach taking over a program, we built a foundation. And then each
year you put some furniture in the building. That’s what you gotta
”The big thing is we got better each year and we’ve had our ups
and downs, but I think the consistency of the program, and the
culture of the program is in place right now to move forward and
get better each and every year.”
The dominoes that fell into place this season were many.
Most Knights’ fans will probably most remember the ones that
took place on the field, such as the midseason upset of Louisville
or the eight-game win streak to close out the regular. But the
biggest actually was set late last year when UCF officials decided
to appeal a one-year postseason ban that was part of sanctions
levied in July 2012 for major recruiting violations in football and
UCF accepted a one-year postseason ban in basketball, along with
a $50,000 fine, five years’ probation and reduction of basketball
But school President John Hitt and athletic director Todd
Stansbury said they believed the football ban was too severe since
none of the players UCF the NCAA said had recruited illegally
played football for the Knights.
The appeals’ process allowed the Knights to participate in the
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in 2012
Then, departing from their usual track record toward such
appeals, the NCAA sided with UCF in April and threw out the
football ban. Had UCF’s appeal not been successful, it would have
served the ban this season and wouldn’t be eligible to play in the
It was gamble, but one that O’Leary said is glad they made.
”I thought it was a big decision and I guess a lot of people
jumped on the bandwagon after we won it,” he said. ”But I thought
we had a legitimate shot at winning that because of some of the
things that took place (and) why we got restrictions as far as it
wasn’t much of a football deal.”
The outcome has now left the Knights with a chance to join the
ranks of established in-state programs at Florida, Florida State
and Miami as BCS bowl winners.
It’s also brought an instant national attention to UCF that many
thought wasn’t possible after conference realignment completely
reshuffled the Big East Conference that UCF originally signed up to
That spotlight has also included the rapid rise of junior
quarterback Blake Bortles’ NFL draft stock in recent months.
While that kind of buzz could be a distraction for a young team
in this position for the first time, O’Leary said he met with
Bortles and his parents Sunday night and that he doesn’t anticipate
that being an issue during their preparations.
Still, UCF offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, who is in his
fifth year as an assistant at the school, said that doesn’t mean
there isn’t a recognition that the program must take advantage of
the position it’s in.
”You have to live in the moment. You can’t dwell on the past,
either success or failures,” Taaffe said ”And you look too far
ahead to the future. What’s important is now. What’s happening now.
And obviously we’ve been a pretty good story this season. Now we’ve
got one more opportunity facing us.
”That’s where the focus needs to be now as we prepare to really
do something special, and not just play in a BCS bowl, but win
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