Oct. 3, 2011
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - For proof that there's still plenty to play for this season for UCF's football team one need to look no further than last season, otherwise known as the greatest season in school history.
Why, just last September, the Knights were 2-2 and staggering following a crushing loss at Kansas State. All that team did to rebound was win the next five games and nine of 10 the rest of the season. The final two victories, of course, came in the Conference USA championship against SMU and in the Liberty Bowl against Georgia to pave the way for the most decorated season ever at UCF.
That finish not only gave UCF its first bowl victory in school history, but it also allowed the Knights to finish the season in the national rankings for the first time. And that ultimately helped UCF bring in its finest recruiting class ever.
We bring all of this up now because the Knights sit precariously at 2-2 following a somewhat disappointing 2-2 start to this season. UCF was riding high following a 2-0 start and a resounding 30-3 whipping of Boston College three weeks ago. But disheartening losses to FIU and BYU - games in which UCF was its own worst enemy with errors - followed, leaving the Knights in the precarious position that they are in now.
Gone are the dreams of being 12-0 and BCS-busters a la Boise State and Texas Christian from years past. But still there is plenty to play for for a Knights team that has to be angry and ready to get on the Bright House Networks Stadium field Saturday night against Marshall. The Knights have had more than a week to stew over their consecutive losses, and clearly Saturday's game can't get here soon enough.
Sure, UCF feels like it should be 4-0 right now, but all that matters now is taking care of what lies ahead. The Conference USA season is about to begin and the Knights are still the unquestioned leaders of the league. That became glaringly obvious back in late July at the league's meetings in Memphis when UCF was the talk of the day, and teams openly speculated about how they planned to knock the Knights out of the top perch in C-USA.
UCF is clearly the hunted now in C-USA, and teams will line up in the coming weeks to try and unseat the Knights as defending champions. UCF dominated the league last season, winning impressively in Houston and Marshall, thumping East Carolina, outlasting Southern Miss and beating SMU in the title game. But the schedule grew some serious teeth this season and difficult road games at SMU (Oct. 15), Southern Miss (Nov. 12) and East Carolina (Nov. 19) loom for the Knights.
UCF has a chance this season to establish itself as the clear powerhouse program in Conference USA. The Knights not only have a chance to repeat as league champions, but they also can win a third league title in the past five years. UCF may or may not move on to an automatic qualifying conference at some point in the near future, and if they do what better way to leave C-USA than as the unquestioned powerhouse of the league?
For the likes of fifth-year seniors Adam Nissley, A.J. Guyton and Cliff McCray, winning a third championship ring would be some serious hardware to flaunt for years to come and leave their lasting legacy on the program. As the leaders of this team, that trio will push the Knights to play hard down the stretch and keep the ultimate goal - a conference title - in mind.
And if the Knights can put on another closing kick like last season it will almost assuredly end them up back in the national rankings and in a bowl game for a third consecutive season. Don't tell me that another showdown against an SEC team such as Tennessee, Auburn or Mississippi State wouldn't excite UCF and its fanbase again. To this day, most UCF fans can close their eyes and still hear the clanging of that Liberty Bowl trophy following the beating of Georgia on the final day of 2010.
So clearly there is still plenty to play for this football season. Sure, UCF had the talent to beat both FIU and BYU in very winnable games, but it does no good to focus on the past now. The rest of this season can still be a very good one, maybe even another historic one if things fall right for the Knights.
This UCF team is too talented, too deep and too solid to not make something special out of the rest of the year. It starts Saturday night against Marshall, arguably UCF's nastiest C-USA rival. Winning the league won't be nearly as easy as it was last season because of the games ahead, but this UCF team has what it takes on both sides of the ball to win out the rest of the way.
A strong regular-season finish, a repeat as conference champions and another great bowl experience will ultimately make the pain of September fade and the promise of this program look great again. Again, looking back does no good - not when there's so much to look forward to in the coming months for the Knights.
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.