Make no mistake about it. This is Blake Bortles' team.
Urban Meyer's first week as Ohio State Buckeyes head coach is now a thing of the past. After shaking off a slow start to manhandle the in-state Miami (Ohio) RedHawks, Meyer's Buckeyes turn their attention to a "a whole different animal" in the University of Central Florida Knights. Accordingly, we bring in the foremost expert on the subject for today's 5 Minutes In The Holy Land, the Orlando Sentinel's Iliana Limón Romero. Iliana's covered the UCF athletics program during a rather tumultuous, transition ripe state and brings us an authoritative, insider's vantage few (if anyone) else can profess to bring to the table. You can follow her on Twitter for all thing Knights at @osknights.
One of Urban Meyer's greatest challenges in his first year as Ohio State's head coach comes from his responsibilities as a motivator. With no Big Ten championship or post-season bowl to play for, Meyer's spoke openly of still not knowing precisely what target he'll have the Buckeyes' players aim for as the season moves on into its latter portions. While it's a bit presumptuous to say the least, assuming UCF is unsuccessful in their expedited appeal to the NCAA, how will George O'Leary keep the Knights on point if a Conference USA title and bowl are suddenly off the radar?
It seems unlikely UCF's NCAA appeal will be resolved before the end of the college football season. The NCAA issues a stay whenever a penalty is appealed, so the Knights are generally expected to be eligible to compete for a Conference USA title and bowl win. The players and coaches seem to genuinely believe those goals are still attainable, so it doesn't seem to have impacted their outlook on the season.
Sophomore Blake Bortles was a guy with a Purdue offer and now has a win (in Ohio no less) as the Knights' starting quarterback to his name. After an impressive showing, are there any lingering doubts that Bortles isn't the guy and/or are there any prevailing sentiments that the once highly touted Tyler Gabbert may unseat him yet?
There's no question it's Blake Bortles' team. There never has been for anyone familiar with the program and his development. Gabbert has a long way to go before he can truly compete for the starting quarterback job. Bortles has the size, arm strength and athleticism needed to run the offense successfully. SMU coach June Jones, who has developed a tremendous number of quarterbacks, said during Conference USA preseason media days he views Bortles as a special talent capable of doing great things for UCF this season.
I don't think many would doubt that as Latavius Murray and UCF's talented core of running backs go, so do the Knights. Are there any changes on Murray's status following the bruised shoulder against Akron and if he's unable to go as expected, who should Ohio State fans expect to carry the load against their talented front 7?
UCF is loaded at the running back position, making it a lot easier to absorb the loss of Murray. He suffered a shoulder injury during the first half against Akron and will miss the Ohio State game. Miami transfer Storm Johnson, a gifted athlete who has looked stellar in practice, will take over the starting job. Senior Brynn Harvey, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2009 and earned first team All-Conference USA honors, will take over the backup position. Harvey slipped in the running back rotation when he suffered a torn ACL before the start of the 2010 season.
During the Mike Kruczek-era, the Knights took down Alabama in Tuscaloosa and after the 2010 season, UCF took down Georgia in Memphis. Where would a victory over Ohio State in Columbus rank in the sixteen year history of UCF football at the FBS level?
I think it would be the biggest win in school history. It was huge for UCF to beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl, but that victory came on a neutral field against a struggling Bulldogs team. This would be a road win against a nationally ranked team playing at a high level.
From a higher level vantage, what constitutes a successful season in the mind of the UCF faithful? A win over Ohio State or Missouri and being in a position to be considered at the top of Conference USA in the Knights' final season there?
I think wins over Ohio State or Missouri would be more valuable to UCF fans because it would do more to enhance the program's national reputation.
Lastly, some considered George O'Leary's job security to be in a somewhat nebulous state before the potential NCAA sanctions. By all accounts, it seems the players are still very much bought in and given that he's made it to this point, it would seem the administration is still interested in him being their football coach. Where does O'Leary stand in the minds of UCF's fan base? Are they sold on him as the guy to lead them in to a BCS conference era?
There are some UCF fans who will always remain critical of O'Leary, regardless of how much he achieves while leading the program. He leads what is perceived to be a conservative offense and many suggest he doesn't have what it would take to help UCF truly at the next level. However, O'Leary has the full support of the school's administration and has made major contributions that have put the program in a position to be successful.