Football Game Notes - The Conference USA Championship Game vs. Tulsa

Nov. 28, 2005

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ORLANDO - The West Division champion Tulsa Golden Hurricane (7-4, 6-2) will meet the East Division champion UCF Golden Knights (8-3, 7-1) on Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in the inaugural Conference USA Football Championship game. ESPN will televise the championship game live beginning at Noon EST.

After losing its first two games of the season, the resurgent Golden Knights won eight out of nine games over nine consecutive weekends to win Conference USA's Eastern Division championship.

UCF capped off its remarkable run with a 31-28 victory at Rice on Nov. 19 to close out the regular season. The Golden Knights rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit and outscored the Owls 22-7 in the second half for the thrilling victory.

The UCF ISP Sports Network begins pregame coverage with a two-hour show prior to kickoff. The "Voice of the Golden Knights," Marc Daniels, will handle the play-by-play duties while Gary Parris provides color commentary and Jerry O'Neill patrols the sidelines. The radio broadcast is also available at ucfathletics.com.

A Remarkable Turnaround
George O'Leary has engineered the top turnaround in the nation. After going 0-11 in 2004, UCF is 8-3 in 2005, including a 7-1 mark in C-USA. Even more remarkable, UCF has done it with a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores. The Golden Knights have just 10 seniors on scholarship and have 25 freshmen or sophomores who have started this season, including seven true freshmen starters. Another amazing fact is that UCF played seven of its 11 games this season on the road.

O'Leary is no stranger to turning around the fortunes of a football program. Inheriting a team which posted a 1-10 record in 1994 at Georgia Tech, O'Leary directed the second-best turnaround in the nation in 1995 as the Yellow Jackets finished the season 6-5.

Change in the Right Direction
UCF is currently tied for second among the most improved teams in NCAA history. The Golden Knights have improved 8.0 games from last season.

UCF secured the best turnaround in Conference USA history after its 27-21 victory at UAB on Nov. 12.

NCAA All-Time Most Improved TeamsTeam (Year) - Games1. Hawaii (1999) - 8.52. UCF (2005) - 8.02. Stanford (1940) - 8.04. South Carolina (2000) - 7.5

* To determine games improved, add the difference in victories between the two seasons to the difference in losses, then divide by two.

One-Year Turnaround
UCF is just the seventh team in NCAA history to become bowl eligible after going winless the previous year.

Prior to UCF, South Carolina was the last team to go from a winless campaign to bowl eligible a year later. In 1999, the Gamecocks went 0-11 before going 8-4 in 2000 under head coach Lou Holtz.

First in NCAA History
UCF is the first team in NCAA history to record a five-game winning streak a year after going winless. South Carolina (2000), Ball State (2000) and Hawaii (1999) are the only other schools to record a four-game winning streak a year after going winless.

Road Warriors
UCF could become just the fourth team in NCAA history to play seven away games in a season (11-game schedule) and participate in a bowl game.

Southern Miss was the last team to play seven games on the road and reach a bowl game in 2000. The Golden Eagles finished the season 8-4 and ended the season with a win over TCU in the GMAC Bowl.

The Golden Knights had seven games on the road in 2005.

Series Notes
UCF and Tulsa will meet for the first time in series history Saturday. It also marks the first meeting between UCF head coach George O'Leary and Tulsa head coach Steve Kragthorpe.

Kragthorpe served as offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona in 1993, the same season Tim O'Leary, son of George, lettered as a free safety for the Lumberjacks.

UCF's game vs. Tulsa will mark the first time in school history the Golden Knights have played a team from the state of Oklahoma.

Best Conference Record Ever
With a win over Rice, the Golden Knights clinched their best record ever in conference play. The Golden Knights, who were an independent from 1996-2001 in Division I-A, were part of the Mid-American Conference (2002-04) before joining Conference USA in 2005. UCF's previous best record in conference play was in 2002 when the Golden Knights ended the year 6-2 in the MAC.

Gaining National Attention
The Golden Knights are receiving votes in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today/Coaches' Top 25 this week. It marked the first time since 1998 that UCF has earned votes in both polls.

O'Leary Named National Coach of the Year by Two Prominent Web Sites
Two national web sites - CBSsportsline.com and SportsIllustrated.com - named UCF head coach George O'Leary college football's national coach of the year.

O'Leary has led UCF to one of college football's greatest turnarounds in NCAA history as the Golden Knights went from 0-11 a year ago to 8-3 and Conference USA Eastern Division champions in 2005.

O'Leary was named the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year in 2000 while he was head coach at Georgia Tech. He is the first coach in UCF history to be named national coach of the year by any media outlet.

Winning the Close Games
UCF is 7-1 this season in games decided by 10 points or less.

Turnovers Key to Turnaround
In UCF's eight wins this season, the Golden Knights have forced 25 turnovers. In three losses, UCF has just four takeaways.

In the eight wins, UCF has outscored the opposition 132-69 in the first half, including a 75-17 advantage in the first quarter.

In the Golden Knights' three losses, UCF has been outscored 83-10 in the first half.

Running Wild in Conference USA
UCF has displayed one of the best rushing attacks in C-USA during league games in 2005. In eight league games, the Golden Knights have averaged 189 rushing yards per game.

Interception Streak Continues
UCF has recorded at least one interception in nine straight games, which is tied for the longest streak in UCF's Division I-A history.

The Golden Knights have 18 interceptions in their last nine games, including 12 in their last five games.

24-K Gold
True freshman tailback Kevin Smith has taken Conference USA by storm in 2005. The Miami native has two 100-yard games in C-USA action and is the league's fifth-leading rusher.

He ranks sixth in the NCAA in rushing yards for a true freshman with 868. He is also tied for sixth in 100-yard games for a true freshman with three.

Smith's 164 yards in the Memphis victory is the 16th-highest total by a true freshman in the nation this season in a single game.

4th Down Success
UCF has been terrific in 2005 on 4th downs, both offensively and defensively. The Golden Knights have converted 13-of-19 4th down conversions in 2005 (68 %) offensively, while their defense has held the opposition to a 5-for-16 conversion rate on 4th down (31 %).

Three Straight Comebacks on the Road
UCF rallied from behind in its last three Conference USA games on the road. The Golden Knights trailed East Carolina 20-17 in the fourth quarter before securing a 31-20 victory Oct. 29 and came from 11 down at UAB to defeat the Blazers 27-21 Nov. 12.

UCF overcame its largest halftime deficit of the season (12 points) for its first win of the year when trailing at halftime in the Rice game. The Golden Knights were 0-3 in 2005 when trailing at the break before rallying for the 31-28 victory against the Owls. Rice led 21-9 at the half.

A Winning Season Away from Home
UCF tied a single-season school record for wins on the road with its fourth win of the season away from home at Rice Nov. 19.

Only one other team in UCF's Division I-A history has won four games in one season away from home. The 1998 team, led by senior quarterback Daunte Culpepper, won four games on the road.

Eight Wins and Counting
With UCF's 8-3 record, the 2005 Golden Knights have the second-most wins in the school's 10-year, Division I-A history.

Only the 1998 team had more victories in a season than this year's squad.

Walker Out for C-USA Championship Game
UCF's win at Rice was a costly victory on the injury front. Both junior WR Mike Walker and senior DE Glenroy Watkins sustained knee injuries, forcing both to miss the C-USA Championship Game. Walker had emerged as one of C-USA's best receivers in 2005 before the injury. The Orlando native ranks fourth in C-USA in receptions per game (5.8) and seventh in league play in receiving yards per game (77.7).

Walker caught two key fourth quarter touchdowns vs. East Carolina to seal the 30-20 victory. He was named C-USA's Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts vs. the Pirates.

Walker leads UCF with nine touchdown receptions in 2005. He is eighth in UCF single-season history with the nine touchdown catches.

No Ordinary Joe
True freshman CB Joe Burnett has been quite a playmaker on UCF's defense and special teams. The Eustis native leads Conference USA in punt returns (14.7)and interceptions per game (0.45).

Burnett recorded his first two career interceptions in the Tulane victory. It marked the first time since 1997 that a true freshman tallied an interception for UCF (Damian Demps vs. NE Louisiana on Nov. 1, 1997).

Burnett's two interceptions came in the fourth quarter vs. the Green Wave, including a pick in the end zone to secure the victory.

Burnett is also tied for second in UCF single-season history with five interceptions. The five interceptions are the most by a single player in UCF's Division I-A history.

Smith Second in UCF History
Kevin Smith is second in school history in single-season rushing yards by a true freshman.