In 2006, the year in which the 2009 University of Central Florida senior class first set foot on the Orlando campus, the Knights football team was still playing games at the city of Orlando's Citrus Bowl, a 20-30 minute ride from where the players hit the books.
The season began with a sprightly 35-16 win against Villanova at home, but after a 42-0 loss at University of Florida, the black and gold fell apart.
The Knights struggled through what should have been a fair schedule to navigate, losing to South Florida, Southern Miss, Pittsburgh, Rice, Houston, East Carolina, and Tulane.
Most of the team's losses were C-USA matchups, eliminating the chance for domination quite early. Mid-season, the 2006 UCF squad lost four games in a row, causing many fans to give up on their Knights by the end of October.
The 2006 freshman class at UCF was exceptionally offended by the lack of coordination and execution the team exhibited. Would the new Knights have no reason to happily tailgate at 11 a.m. during their time at Central Florida? Would a 2 P.M. Astronomy class prove to be more exciting than Knightro's footballers?
The 2007 Knights football team was undoubtedly inspired by the brand new on-campus Bright House Networks Stadium, and worked extremely hard to prove their student body wrong. 2007 was the time for a new beginning—a fresh slate on fresh turf.
The Knights went 10-4 that year; 7-1 in C-USA matchups. An exceptional talent in Consensus all-American running back Kevin Smith helped launched the team to their new winning status. The highlight of the season consisted of a Game Two battle against No. 6 Texas at home.
Quarterback Kyle Israel pulled out all of his stops that September afternoon, but his efforts were in vain. The Longhorns came out on top in a close one, 35-32.
The 2007 season culminated in a C-USA championship and Liberty Bowl appearance against Mississippi State in Memphis, Tennessee. The team lost in an uneventful 10-3 game that left Knights fans wanting more.
A winning season is great, but winning a bowl is greater. The Knights celebrated their accomplishments and moved forward towards a 2008 season.
Junior year for the UCF class of 2009-2010, unveiled an eerie pattern that began to establish itself at Central Florida. Kevin Smith left in his junior year for the NFL after swearing he wouldn't.
It was coach George O'Leary's fifth season with the Knights. The team went 4-8 (3-4 in C-USA play), in a streaky fashion. Once again, Orlando's Knights fans became frustrated and confused.
The team won against South Carolina State 17-0 in Game One, a score that really should have been higher. O'Leary's staff winced as quarterback Michael Greco struggled, and the Knights subsequently dug their own grave.
The black and gold faithful began to grow angry and discouraged as the team lost 31-24 in Week Two to bitter rival South Florida, another game the team could have won.
Hence the skeptics of the 2009 season. UCF's senior class isn't betting on much this year. How could they, when they have had their confidence torn away from them time and again? How could the seniors believe in a victorious season after every fan-important game was trashed and thrown away?
It's up to O'Leary and his crew to take things into third gear this season. No one's laughing, especially the senior students who trusted in UCF to give them the total college package.
All work and no play make very dull Knights, and they're tired of being the butt of athletic jokes—just ask the students that watched the Comedy Central Tour show in 2007. Undergrads had to yell to the comedian on stage that UCF's 2007 cheerleaders won their national title, in defense. Not exactly hardcore.
In 2009, the Knights will have a fairly difficult season, with tough matchups such as Buffalo, East Carolina, Miami (FL), and Texas. The Knights will play eight C-USA games, which have been a definite weakness, and the inevitable demise of a team year in and year out, no matter what.
UCF football has been keeping things positive since the beginning of preseason camp, and George O'Leary says the team has been exhibiting “a lot of retention” and enthusiasm.
The development of players during the preseason will help UCF fans gauge whether or not the Knights have turned around from the weak team they were last season. One thing is certain—Knights fans are looking for something bigger this season.
They're expecting more out of their team, and losing patience with coach O'Leary. The 2009 season doesn't look very promising, but it's the squads of recent years past that have forced Central Florida fans to hold their breath.
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