BY NEIL BISMAN
CONFERENCE USA INSIDER
You’ll have to excuse me for a second as I violate the essential rule of journalism in this paragraph and use the “I” voice. While looking for a school to transfer to in 2004, I narrowed my list of schools down to two, the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida. In the end, I decided on the University of Florida and in all honesty, it was not even close. Florida offered an on-campus environment that I had never seen before with its large, sprawling athletic facilities, a sense of community and just a buzz in the air that could not be explained. While Central Florida was by far the much nicer campus, the general feeling was that it was just a bunch of people who just so happened to be going to the same school. It was a commuter campus in every sense of the word.
You could make the argument that a football team is the backbone of any major university and at Central Florida; they may as well have not had a team. The school played at the off-campus and outdated Citrus Bowl and it seemed like a chore to attend a football game.
Fast forward three years and things have changed quite dramatically on the beautiful Orlando campus. With a brand new on-campus stadium set to open this Saturday and the addition of the school’s first on-campus housing, the little commuter school that couldn’t is suddenly becoming the little football power that could. Fresh off of a season opening victory on the road against North Carolina State, the UCF Knights are looking to open up their new digs in style by knocking off a storied football program in the University of Texas.
“We are only going to be a better team after that Texas game,” head coach George O’Leary stated while addressing the media this past Wednesday. “I like good non-conference games, it gives us an opportunity to see an elite program and see how we match up with them and see how far we have to go and what we have to do to get to that level.”
Surprisingly enough, Central Florida does not have all that far to go on their road to respectability. The win over North Carolina State certainly helped and a win over Texas would obviously do wonders for the program but nonetheless, the future does appear very bright for the student-athletes who don the black and gold. The school has a major advantage over many other schools around the nation who are in similar situations because they are located right in the middle of one of the country’s most fertile recruiting grounds. Add that to the fact that the school is likely to have a tremendous increase in support for the football program thanks in part to the new stadium and it appears as though Central Florida is ready to take the next step.
Coach O’Leary, for one, is excited about what the new stadium will bring.
“I think there is a lot more interest and there’s an increase in the fan base and enthusiasm, no question about that,” says the fourth-year coach. “This school has just been waiting for this stadium to get on campus, a place to call home, a place to tailgate and enjoy themselves. And now the student body doesn’t have to travel 30 minutes to go to a game every Saturday. The new stadium is going to change the whole dynamic of the campus. They’ve never had a venue like this and there was no reason for an alumnus who graduated 15 years ago to come back on campus. The only thing they’d see of UCF was the Citrus Bowl.”
With a victory over a BCS opponent already in the bag and the potential for another one this coming weekend when they open up their new stadium in what should be a frenzied, raucous atmosphere, the time is now for UCF to take the next step.
“I always thought it [UCF] was a sleeping giant that was just waiting to wake up at some point,” said O’Leary. “We are getting to where we should get a lot quicker.”