UCF: Trap Door, or Mickey Mouse Game?

For one Saturday, the biggest attraction in Orlando may not be Disneyworld. At the very least, nothing has generated more buzz at the University of Central Florida campus than Saturday's visit from the highest ranked football ever to visit the Golden Knights.

It's not just that UCF is fresh off an unprecedented road win at North Carolina State, the first time the Conference USA club has knocked-off a BCS-conference opponent. Nor is it simply because Saturday's home-opener for UCF is also the first home game on-campus in the history of UCF football. For coach George O'Leary's bunch, Saturday's highly-anticipated meeting with Texas represents Tomorrowland for his program. The helmets are new. The logos are new. Jiminey Cricket, even the stadium is new!

Enter the No. 5/6 Texas Longhorns, who have played as many games in the new $55 million Bright House Networks Stadium as has the host team. It's a cozy setting, seating 45,000, but tickets are harder to come by than breakfast at Cinderella's castle. For the second straight week, Texas plays a 1-0 team hoping to parlay a signature win over the Longhorns into a BCS-crashing post-season party.

For Texas, it's the first road trip to Florida in 34 years and the first road test since falling to Kansas State, 45-42, last November. More important, it's an opportunity to prove its second half performance during Saturday's 34-13 comeback against TCU is indicative of the level of play fans can expect from the Horns this season. The only other question is: which UCF team will show up? Will it resemble the 4-8 team that O-Leary fielded last season? Or, can it approximate the 8-5 record that saw UCF clinch the Conference USA East Division Championship and the program's first-ever bowl bid (Sheraton Hawaii Bowl) in 2005?

This much is certain, as far as Texas coach Mack Brown is concerned: the players that the three traditional Florida programs did not recruit are now filling the ranks of the Central Floridas and South Floridas (an OT upset winner at Auburn last Saturday). These are not 'directional schools' but rather Diet Seminole and Gator Lite.

"If you look at the number of good (high) schools that can support good (college) teams in the state of Texas," Brown said, "it's the same way in Florida. A lot of those kids want to stay close to home. They used to go to the Big Ten or the Big East. Now, a lot will stay in Florida. Their moms want to see them play. Their high school coaches want to see them play. Now, you'll see a South Florida beating Auburn because there are really good players at these schools."

IT'S A SMALL WORLD, AFTER ALL
There are several prominent connections between the Texas and UCF programs. Former Texas Co-defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik was UCF's Defensive Coordinator from 1998-2001.

Reserve RB Phillip Smith is the lone member of the Knight's roster hailing the Lone Star state, but just happens to be a former teammate of Texas backup QB John Chiles. Both played for Mansfield Summit.

Most notably, Texas offensive line coach Mac McWhorter was a Georgia Tech assistant (2000-01) under O'Leary's Yellow Jackets before his boss lost the Notre Dame job after fibbing on his resume. O'Leary claimed to have earned a Masters degree from New York University after earning three letters in football at the University of New Hampshire. The school later said O'leary never played a game for New Hampshire. Also turns out O'Leary attended, but never graduated from NYU). During the span, however, McWhorter became interim head coach for Georgia Tech, guiding them to a bowl win.

CENTRAL FLORIDA OFFENSE
Numbers can be skewed so early in the season but, with one game under his belt, TB Kevin Smith (6-1, 211) is the nation's leading rusher with his 217-yard output against N.C.State. (He opened the game with an 80-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage, the longest rush in UCF history). A closer gage would be Smith's 101.3 ypg average through 23 career starts. Even so, Texas coaches expect UCF to remain primarily a power running team that features isolation plays and the occasional play-action pass. The run-to-pass ratio in the Knight's season-opener stood at 2-to-1.

"They're going to try to run the ball and keep the ball away from you," Brown predicted.

Of course, that's what coaches expected of Arkansas State in the home-opener. Instead, they "came in and completely changed their offense" by putting the ball in the air 37 times.

But Brown is convinced that an old-school, defensive-minded, smash-mouth coach like O'Leary is still gonna dance with the one that brung him.

"If we don't go there expecting to handle the run," Brown said, "it will be a long day. We won't touch the ball. Smith is going to carry it 30 to 40 times."

Smith has the luxury of one of college football's most experienced offensive lines. The front returns four starters who have combined for 107 starts. C Kyle Smith paces all UCF players with 33 starts. LT Patrick Brown enters Saturday's game with 25 career starts, the most by any junior in the country.

Senior QB Kyle Israel started five of UCF's final six games last year, developing a reputation as a strong-armed passer but too quick to bail on pass plays, attempting to move the chains with his feet. He was 12-of-24 for just 93 yards, no TDs and no INTs, in the season opener. The Knights primarily rely on two relatively inexperienced WRs. Junior Rocky Ross (6-2, 198) has notched six starts, but has not been a model of consistency. WR Kamar Aiken (6-2,205) was one of three true freshmen to start in the season-opener.

CENTRAL FLORIDA DEFENSE
The good news for the Golden Knights is they return eight starters from last year's defense. The bad news for the Golden Knights is they return eight starters from last year's defense

UCF's defense was so horrid (NCAA No. 106) that O'Leary sacked three defensive coaches in 2006. Former Iowa State assistant John Skladany is now the Golden Knight's first-year defensive coordinator. The secondary coach and the D-line coaches are also new. The strength of the UCF defense should be its experienced secondary. The Knights return all four starting DBs who have combined for 83 career starts and 18 INTs. LCB Johnell Neal led his team with 66 tackles last season, followed by FS Jason Venson's 63 stops. Venson also paced his team with 11 tackles against N.C. State and the seventh INT of his career.

"They're fast in the secondary," QB Colt McCoy said. "They don't give up many big plays."

McCoy must have only seen N.C. State game film because UCF DBs gave up plenty of big plays last year, yielding 248.8 ypg (No. 111). The team's defensive problems last season were largely attributed to its anemic pass rush. Now, the Knights are trying to plug holes at DT and DE.

The Knights are especially young and thin at linebacker. UCF started a pair of true freshmen (Derrick Hallman,Lawrence Young) at outside linebacker last Saturday. Meanwhile, RS-sophomore Alex Thompson is a converted QB who made his first collegiate start at MLB against N.C.State.

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