Last Chance for National Respect

Prior to the start of the 2008 season, UCF had three perceived difficult non-conference opponents on their schedule-USF, BC, and the University of Miami. Coach O'Leary has stressed to his team that non-conference victories are how you gain national respect and notoriety, and his Knights are 0-2 in those big time games with this Saturday's tilt at Miami being their last chance to make a mark.

"I am always going to try to play a tough schedule," O'Leary said in his Tuesday press conference. "You aren't playing just to play. You have to win to not just get respect for your conference, but respect for your program too. I am not big on the BCS. I think we are playing schools like Boston College, who is traditionally a good football team, South Florida has played well and Miami traditionally has a stout football team. That is how I look at it; get a good schedule and then beat some of these teams that other people think you aren't supposed to beat. That is where you get some credibility for your program."

Although the Knights haven't been victorious in one of those big games, they've showed themselves pretty well. UCF battled USF into overtime before ultimately succumbing, and the Knights were ahead at BC at halftime, before a second-half meltdown occurred. The Knights have nothing to lose this Saturday as they take on one of the historically great programs in college football.

"That's our goal every week, is to go out and win," said Knights tight end Cory Rabazinski. "We're not going out there to compete with anybody, to show that we can hang within 21 points, our goal is to win."

The Knights currently enter as 17 point underdogs against a young Miami team that has all kinds of speed and talent all over the field. Knights defensive tackle Torrell Troup believes that if UCF plays their game, it will be close.

"We're gonna play our defense," Troup said. "We have a couple of defensive schemes formed, but mainly we're just going to line up and play. We're a pretty good defense as long as we play our game, and if we play our game, I think we can stick with anybody."

With the tough start that the Knights have had, the team knows how big a win in Miami would be for the program, as well as the fact that nobody outside of Central Florida believes that they can hang with the more talented ‘Canes.

"I think it would be a huge boost to the program, especially our season right now," Rabazinski said. "I think if we win this game and get on a roll like we did last season and keep the momentum going from last week, a win would just be huge."

Troup relishes the opportunity. "We need to make a statement this game, we need to let everybody know that we can play in non-conference games and that we are a team to be reckoned with."

There's more than just respect on the line for the Knights when they take on Miami this week, but bragging rights amongst players from the same state, almost like a state championship. The Hurricanes have lost to both the University of Florida and Florida State, and they desperately don't want to be "o" for the state.

"I do think that kids from in the state get jacked up more than some kid from Nevada," O'Leary said. "It means more to him. That kid from Nevada is going to play hard because he thinks it is the next game. The interest level from the in-state kids is higher than someone from out of state."

Even following a disappointing start for the Knights, a win in Miami would give the team something to call back upon for the rest of the year and would certainly be a landmark victory in UCF football history. The program has advanced past the part of just playing good teams close, they need to finish the job and win one. They have the opportunity Saturday.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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