BRISTOL, CT — First, it was the emergence in 1995 of a 6-foot-4, 260-pound quarterback named Daunte Culpepper that set school records and helped put UCF on the map.
Then, came the announcement in 1996 that a little school in Central Florida with a total enrollment of 27,411 was moving to Divison I-A in football.
Next, was the move from the Mid-American Conference to Conference USA in 2005, the hiring of head coach George O’Leary and the recruiting of a defensive back/running back out of Southridge High School named Kevin Smith.
Finally, all the work and growth started to show in 2007. The Knights had arguibly their best season in school history. They opened a brand-new, 56,000-seat, on-campus football stadium, compiled a record of 10-4 and won their first C-USA championship in school history. Oh, and some running back named Smith rushed for 2,566 yards that season, falling just 62 yards short of breaking Barry Sanders all-time NCAA rushing record of 2,628 yards in a single season.
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Now, this: the first time in school history the Knights are ranked in any top 25 poll. Oh, and they aren’t just ranked in one poll, they are ranked in three, No. 23 in the Coaches’ poll and No. 25 in the AP and Harris polls. And for a short period this morning, the Knights could say they were the top team in Florida, being ranked ahead of Florida, Florida State and Miami in the Coaches’ poll before the AP poll was released later in the day.
Let that fact sink in for a minute. UCF is a nationally-ranked football team.
Better than the historic Miami Hurricanes. Better than the once-led Bobby Bowden Florida State Seminoles. Yes, even better than the team across I-4 that said they were “too good” to play the Knights in USF.
At least for the week.
But what this ranking really signifies isn’t just that UCF is embarking on its best season yet, it shows just how far this program has come and the potential it has to keep growing.
“We felt that we were a Top 25 team all along, and making it into the polls doesn’t change that,” defensive end David Williams said to the Associated Press.
They sure have looked like one, too. But the program isn’t the only thing growing on the football field.
Since inserting freshman quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey as the full-time starting quarterback, the Knights have won five straight games – and not in their usual defensive style. UCF has scored an average of 41.4 points over those games and have won three of those on national television.
“He’s getting better each week,” UCF coach George O’Leary said of Godfrey to the Orlando Sentinel. “He’s just playing with so much more poise. I never see him get overly panicky out there.”
Godfrey signals something pretty important, too. He’s the new face of the new-generation Knights. He’s drawn comparrisons to having a Culpepper-like impact for UCF. Up here in Bristol at ESPN, experts like Lou Holtz and Reese Davis rave about the skill set Godfrey has.
He isn’t playing much like a freshman, either.
“He’s matured so fast,” UCF WR Jamar Newsome said to the Orlando Sentinel. “I’ve never met a quarterback who matured that fast. He’s not playing like a freshman at all. I’m very proud of him.”
This football team continues to mature as Godfrey does. They are maturing into not just a great team in C-USA, but one that continues to show the national stage that they are here to stay.
To show that this ranking isn’t just a week-long thing.
“It’s hard to get there,” UCF coach George O’Leary said to the Associated Press. “It’s harder to stay there.”
Looks like the Knights have one thing left to do to make this the best season in school history and complete the growth spurt.
Win a bowl game.