On Saturday a ranked team will play at Brighthouse Networks Stadium for the fifth time since the stadium opened in 2007. What makes this one unique to fans that will be attending the game is that for the first time the home team will be the team that is ranked. The Knights (7-2) will play its first ever football game as a ranked team ranked 23rd in the coaches poll and No. 25 in AP Poll.
“I think it’s great for the kids, great for the school and the fan base” said UCF Coach George O’Leary who told his team after learning of the news that the most important rankings are the one at the end of the season. “Our goal hasn’t changed, and it’s the conference championship, the last poll is the one you want to be look at. That’s what’s important”.
O’Leary says that while being ranked this is just another step in the process for the program. “I said to Dr Hitt and the trustees that it’s not an end, it’s a beginning,” O’Leary said “All our players understand how we got ranked and that’s by playing well on all sides of the ball. It’s about hard work and winning games and this is a culmination.”
For the players they have received many congratulations and pats in the back from fellow students on campus early in the week which comes with the territory of being a ranked team. “I was on campus and there were a few more people telling me congratulations and that was neat,” said senior right tackle Jah Reid.
For senior defensive end Bruce Miller who played in first UCF home game at Brighthouse against then 6th ranked Texas in 2007 a 35-32 loss to Longhorns, knows it’s been a long process for the program to get to this point. “It’s been a long trip we came close in 2007 to getting in to the top 25”. Said Miller who will be playing his last regular season home game against Southern Miss. “It’s been a long road and this team is definitely the best one that I’ve been part of.”
The Knights received 35 votes in the AP poll after winning C-USA Championship in 2007 and were on the brink of breaking into the top 25 with a win over Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. UCF fell to Mississippi State by a score of 10-3 and were denied a chance of finishing the season being ranked. The Knights are hoping that that the next first for the program is to win a bowl game which the program has yet to achieve but first things first and that’s to lock up the eastern division title which would be one step closer with a win over Southern Miss (6-3), a team that has beaten the Knights four of the five meetings since 2005 including a 26-19 win last season in Hattiesburg, following the loss to the Golden Eagles , Knights lost to East Carolina the following week which would be UCF’s last lost conference loss as they won 11 straight conference games since which along with the ranking will be on the line on Saturday.
“We’ve stressed that (the ranking) is nice but now we have to move to Southern Miss, “said Miller. “ We wanted (the ranking) for a while, and getting more respect around the country, it’s nice to have, but we have to focus on Southern Miss or we’ll be out of there”.
How will the Knights respond after handling being ranked and having a target that comes with being a nationally ranked team? That’s the next step for the program as they finally reached the top 25, now the next step is learning to handle the expectations that come with it. It begins this Saturday as teams that have played at Brighthouse Network Stadium as a ranked team are 3-1; The Knights hope to improve that record to 4-1 on Saturday.