Since this is the first time South Carolina and Central Florida have played in Orlando, there is, of course, no history for me to talk about. I have, however, made one visit to the UCF campus.
The year was 1994, and Mary and I were on our way to Miami for the Carquest Bowl, for what would become the first bowl victory in USC history. On the way we stopped in Orlando because Nancy Wilson's USC women's basketball team was playing in the Central Florida Holiday Tournament.
The Lady Gamecocks thumped Fairleigh Dickinson 90-86 that New Year's Eve afternoon. The game was played in a nice gym, but what struck me about the campus was how few buildings there were, on what appeared to be, hundreds of acres of land.
The view will certainly be a lot different this Saturday. Let me share with you what the school's website says: “The University of Central Florida and its 12 colleges provide opportunities to 60,000 students from all 50 states and 140 countries. Located in Orlando, Florida, UCF is the nation’s second-largest university.
“UCF is called a ‘Top Up-and-Coming’ national university by U.S. News & World Report, a best-value university by The Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s, and one of the nation’s most affordable colleges by Forbes.
“UCF’s 1,415-acre main campus provides modern facilities, most of which have wireless connectivity, with 600 acres set aside for lakes, woods and an arboretum.”
The Knights didn't have an on-campus stadium until six years ago. They played their home games in the Citrus Bowl stadium near downtown Orlando.
According to the school Web Site: “The UCF Knights made notable changes to its athletic programs and facilities in 2007. A newly developed ‘athletic village’ on the north end of campus, known as Knights Plaza, was opened which consisted of new sports facilities, including the new UCF Arena, the new 45,301 seat Bright House Networks Stadium, a new softball complex, and the only Division I indoor football practice facility in the state. This made UCF the first university to ever open a new stadium and arena during the same year, for the 2007-2008 season.”
Now, let me tell you what those facilities and student body size translate into – an environment that gives coach George O'Leary and his staff the opportunity to recruit some pretty good players. As I said in my chat last Friday, Florida, Florida State and Miami cannot take all the good players in the state, so it stands to reason that programs like UCF's are not just taking leftovers.
As for what I think about the game, it will be a challenge for the Gamecocks. The Knights are 3-0. They beat Penn State in Beaver Stadium, which was certainly a big boost for their confidence. They will, until shown otherwise, believe that they can play with the big boys.
I've been looking over the roster, and I believe the key to the game will be Carolina exploiting its considerable size advantage. Central Florida has only one player on offense over 6-4, the 6-5 right tackle. All the rest are 6-2, 6-3.
The same is true of the defense, where there is only one player on the depth chart who is over 6-2, a 6-4 backup end. I know the Knights encountered some speed when they faced the Nittany Lions, but it should be nothing like the size and speed of a Southeastern Conference team.
I think O'Leary's team puts up a good fight, but loses by a couple of touchdowns.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!