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UCF Football: It's Time to Look Toward Houston, National Relevance on ESPN

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UCF Football: It's Time to Look Toward Houston, National Relevance on ESPN
UCF's Derrick Hallman, AJ Guyton & Khymest Williams celebrating a touchdown against ECU (Photo Courtesy of Orlando Sentinel)

No. 29

That number is significant in the city of Orlando this week, as the UCF Knights (6-2, 4-0 in C-USA) have been given 13 votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll, good enough for 29th in the country.  What's more significant is that the Knights have received more votes than the University of Miami and the Gators at the University of Florida combined.

Having an average margin of victory at 24 points per game and losing to NC State and Kansas State by a mere 11 points combined speak volumes of the improvement on both sides of the ball.  It's a far cry from recent years, where very little was asked from the offense and everything was on the defense's shoulders. 

It's amazing.  In less than a year's time, the UCF Knights have gone from running the "Run 'n' Punt" offense to scoring on all but one possession this past weekend against the ECU Pirates.  This can be attributed to the improvement of the Knights offensive line, as well as the great vision by both junior running back Ronnie Weaver (a former walk-on) and freshman quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey.  

Weaver was at times unstoppable against ECU, putting up 185 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Godfrey has shown massive improvements every week, going from a run-first raw prospect to a calm and collected quarterback who runs only when he feels the pocket break down.  His rapid maturation is probably making the schools that recruited him as a wide receiver (Rivals lists Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan, Florida and Miami as having offered scholarships) kick themselves over not giving him a chance.

As expected, the key to taking home a win against ECU came down to which defense could make the most stops.  

Facing their first pass-first offense (the "Air Raid" brought over by new head coach Ruffin McNeill, of Texas Tech fame), the Knights secondary was exposed for most of the game, but was bailed out by a third-down sack by Darius Nall on the first possession and a late first-half interception by Reggie Weams en route to a 49-35 victory.

If there's anything the defense can take away from this, it's what not to do this Friday against the Houston Cougars. 

Hobbled at quarterback with the loss of All-Conference player and poster child, Case Keenum, the Cougars are still at their core a pass-heavy team under head coach Kevin Sumlin.  They, too, have a freshman at the helm with 4-star prospect Dave Piland, who just put up career highs in both passing yards (292) and touchdowns (five) this weekend against the Memphis Tigers.

The big difference, however, is their new-found ability to run the ball.  Averaging just less than 170 yards per game on the ground, it's fair to say Houston gets the ball to their playmakers, regardless of position.

While a challenging game for the Knights for obvious reasons on the field (on the road, 2009 BCS Buster, payback for last year's upset), it's the off-field reasons that also account for some of the pressure.

As mentioned ad nauseum by the Orlando Sentinel, the Knights are currently the second-highest ranked team in the state of Florida, just behind Florida State (No. 24).  This is new territory for what is essentially a start-up team in the eyes of the FBS.  

Sure, the team has gotten votes in polls before (as many as 20 in the 2007 Conference Championship season), but never before have two of the "Big Three" been beneath them.

Whether players or coaches want to admit it, this is a pressure—filled stretch for the Knights.  Wins against Houston and Southern Miss over the next two weeks could mean an actual Top-25 rank for the first time in school history.  

It all starts with this game.  

Televised on ESPN2, the Knights need to show the college sports world that they mean business and are more than just an also-ran from a non—BCS conference.  The implications of a win are too many to count.  If they stick to their game plan (efficiency on offense, stifling defense), there's no reason to think they can't win this crucial road game.

As the students are saying (paraphrased a little bit), "In Godfrey (& the Knights) We Trust."

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