UCF hosting SMU and old friend at C-USA Championship Game

For the third time since 2005 George O’Leary and his UCF Knights will be hosting the C-USA Championship game. With a win Saturday UCF would join East Carolina as winning C-USA Championship twice since C-USA Championship game was created in 2005.This Saturday in the press box of BrightHouse Networks Stadium a person O’Leary gives credit for helping  his success , the stadium and vision of UCF  Football program makes his return as Steve Orsini will be in attendance for the championship game like he was 5 years ago but unlike 5 years ago Orsini comes in as the visitor. Orsini was UCF Athletic Director in 2004 when he hired George O’Leary who was coaching in the NFL with Minnesota Vikings at the time after his controversial departure from Notre Dame to help bring the Knights football program to the next level.

“I knew Steve back from Georgia Tech days when he was an assistant to AD there.” Said O’Leary on his history with Orsini at Georgia Tech and how Orsini got him to UCF. “He was the one that really initially got me involved here with Dr. Hitt.” It got off to a rocky start as in O’Leary first season the Knights went winless but in 2005 in first season in C-USA, The Knights made one of greatest turnarounds in college football ending up with 8 wins and got to host C-USA Championship game at the Citrus Bowl. Though the Knights lost to Tulsa 44-27, UCF Got in to their first ever bowl appearance in Hawaii. “O’Leary was the guy that could come to a program that had never played successfully at this level.” Said Orsini in an interview he did with Florida Today’s Carlos Pineda this week. “He’s the whole package, I called him my C.E.O. of football for Central Florida.”

During Orsini time at UCF as Athletic Director which began in 2002, OrsinI helped UCF Built the Wayne Densch Sports Center in 2003. Orsini also started the process of building BrightHouse Networks Stadium and the new UCF Arena before he left UCF in 2006 for SMU. “Most of the stuff here is his vision as I see it when I got here,” said O’Leary about Orsini. “As far as a lot of stuff he had on the drawing board.”

Orsini would have to build the SMU Football program that was among worst in Conference USA. Orsini would see his former employees at UCF Host 2nd Championship game  in  2007 in  the stadium he helped make a reality as the Knights behind 284 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns by star running back Kevin Smith,  won C-USA Title over Tulsa  44-25. One month  after UCF C-USA Title win  Orsini hired June Jones who had just taken Hawaii to Sugar Bowl to help build SMU Football program like O’Leary did at UCF. Jones got off to a slow start going 1-11 in first year in 2008 but like O’Leary turn SMU around in 2009 going 7-5 and taking Mustangs to their first Bowl game since 1984 to the Hawaii Bowl where they would face Nevada. SMU finish last season 8-5 like UCF did in 2005 but Unlike the Knights who lost to Nevada in 05 Hawaii Bowl, Jones and SMU Blew out Nevada 45-10.

The SMU turnaround is no surprise to O’Leary who knew with Orsini in charge at SMU that things would turn around. “He is a sharp guy; he knew what he wanted to get done at SMU hiring June.”

Now it all comes full circle for Orsini and O’Leary five years ago being together hosting first C-USA Championship Game. Now once again both are together again in C-USA Championship game but this time as opponents as of them will be hoisting the trophy fittingly at BrightHouse Network Stadium.

   News and Notes

– Win or lose on Saturday UCF Will be familiar with bowl surroundings they will be going to. A win on Saturday means a trip to Liberty Bowl to play team from SEC being Georgia, or Tennessee. A loss means a trip to Hawaii Bowl to play against host Hawaii.
– Last time SMU and UCF played was on October 4, 2008 at Brighthouse. UCF defeated SMU 31-17. It was June Jones first year at SMU who finished 1-11. Season was not much better for Knights who finished 4-8. Then Freshman Ronnie Weaver led the way rushing for 123 yards and a touchdown in the win
– UCF will have to deal this Saturday with C-USA leading rusher in the Mustangs sophomore running Zack Line averaging 108.1 yards per game which is good for ranking 15th in nation. Line scored game winning TD in Overtime win over East Carolina last week to get SMU to title game.
– This is not Orsini first trip to Orlando for C-USA Championship Game as SMU Women’s Basketball won C-USA Championship in 2008 CUSA Tournament at the UCF Arena.
– For more on Orsini and his time at UCF as Athletic Director check out  Florida Today’s article by Carlos Pineda  on Orsini  at http://www.floridatoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201012010351
– SMU College Football scandal in the 1980s that resulted in the Death Penalty will be documented in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary titled “ Pony Excess”  December 11th at 9pm   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwtX-4fXOyk
– On Wednesday, UCF Mens Basketball beat # 16 Florida 57-54 at Amway Center for first ever win against Florida in Men’s or Women’s Basketball. While it is the highest ranked team UCF Basketball has ever beaten it is not the highest ranked Gator team that a UCF Athletic team has beaten. The Highest ranked Gator team that a UCF Athletic team has beaten  was in  Softball on May 18,2008 in  the NCAA Tournament at the  Gainesville regional   as Knights Star Pitcher Allison Kime  led the Knights  to a 1-0  win over number 1 ranked Florida in 8 Innings ending  the Gators 37  straight wins  in a row that season and 41 straight wins at home. This is the highest ranked Gator team that a UCF Team  has beaten  ever in any sport as well as only time a UCF Team has beaten the number one ranked team in the nation in any sport in Division 1-A. UCF Softball Head Coach Renee Luers Gillispie was ironically in attendance at the Amway Center on Wednesday Night.