Marc Daniels' From the Press Box: Let the Games Begin

Aug. 29, 2010

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By Marc Daniels

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - And so it begins. A new season of UCF football is upon us. A new chapter of history is about to be written. New stars will emerge and for 18 seniors this is a final run with a goal of a winning a conference championship and giving UCF's its first bowl win.

This year's squad has embraced expectations and that's good. There is nothing wrong in players demanding a big season. There is a difference between arrogance and confidence. George O'Leary takes care of that in making sure his players know the difference. But this year's team has a confident aura about it. Yet it doesn't mean there are no questions.

Quarterback play has been covered inside and out and you know the story. Whoever is under center for UCF has to produce, be that Rob Calabrese or Jeff Godfrey. For UCF to be a championship team it must get consistent play at this position and it must produce big plays.

There are other story lines such as an ability to run. Is Jonathan Davis able to carry the load and make big plays? Will Jeff Brinson be a solid runner to compliment Davis? And will Brynn Harvey, one of the top backs in Conference USA, be able to play sooner than later?

But there are plenty of strengths on this team. Bruce Miller is well, Bruce Miller. But Miller has help at the defensive end spot with David Williams, Troy Davis and Darius Nall set for big years. Linebacker is deep and the secondary is loaded with players that make plays. Offensively, UCF has double-digit wide receivers that can play, and throw in a NFL-caliber tight end and blocking backs as good as anyone.

Which brings us to a first game. We will get to South Dakota in a moment. But before anyone chalks it up as Cupcake Saturday, do you remember UCF's last two openers? Last season, the Knights trailed Samford going into the fourth quarter 24-21 before scoring a winning TD. And back in 2008, UCF found itself in a game with South Carolina State before winning 17-0.

Players are aware of how the last two openers have gone and coaches have stressed that opponents like South Dakota have nothing to lose. They come into your house sky high and loose and ready to play. As will the Coyotes.

That's Coyotes pronounced KI-YOTES. And for your historical lesson of the week, the name comes from a horse race back in 1863 at a military fort when a small Dakota cavalry horse beat a larger horse run by the Iowa Sixth Cavalry. Someone watching the race said, "Look at that Kiote run." And so the name was born and recorded (I don't make this stuff up folks, I just read media guides).

South Dakota has been playing football since 1889. The Coyotes have played 1,009 games in their school history. UCF has played 349. They are in a transition period to the Football Championship Subdivision (better known as the former 1-AA). They play in the Great West Conference and the school is located in Vermillion with a population of 10,495, which is almost the size of a freshman English class at UCF.

The Coyotes, 5-5 last season, break in a new quarterback in junior Dante Warren who replaces a four-year starter. Warren gets most of the team's receivers back from last season. Chris Ganious, at 5-foot-7, returns in the backfield. Ganious averaged 5.6 yards a carry and ran for 828 yards. Three new starters join the offensive line.

South Dakota's defensive front loses three starters from last season. A new defensive coordinator finds a solid linebacker group and some experience back in the secondary.

The Coyotes' roster features nine players from Florida, including six from the Tampa area. Ed Meierkort has not had a losing season in his six years as head coach at the school and the team has posted a 31-3 record at home during his tenure.

South Dakota plays Minnesota in game two, so the Coyotes make the trek to Orlando to begin a tough two-game stretch, but with nothing to lose in the big picture. A hot humid evening would not be a bad thing. While it's not snowy back in South Dakota, most players on the Coyotes roster have not experienced a Florida summer and what it offers.

For UCF, there is a lot to see. This is the first game of what coaches, players and fans expect to be a big season. Expect the Knights to be ready to play. The players have worked hard all offseason. They remember the bitter taste of the Rutgers bowl game. They know this might be UCF's deepest team ever. But now the games start and now the outcome actually counts. Let the game begin.

Knights Notes and more: Mike Gruttadauria joins me in the booth this season. The former Super Bowl winning Ram is pumped about being back involved with UCF football. How pumped? I think he asked me at one practice if I wanted to take snaps from him under center...Former UCF offensive line coach Robert McFarland is now coaching tight ends for the Florida Tuskers of the UFL. McFarland has coached for almost 30 years in college with stops as a head coach at Stephen F. Austin and was on Gene Chizik's Iowa State staff. McFarland is thrilled to be back in the Orlando area and did a great job when he was at UCF. He attended a UCF practice recently and was impressed. "Coach O'Leary and his staff run a great practice. Everything from the timing, pace and coaching was impressive. And you can just look at the team and see there is talent all over the field."...Bud Withers of the Seattle Times got 29 college football coaches to respond to a survey on the game. Of those who responded, 16 are from BCS schools and five are ranked in the top 15. One question asked was the one thing they'd like to see the new NCAA president change. Instituting a playoff was the top answer. Funny, when those same coaches get together at those offseason conventions and the vote is a public vote about pushing for a playoff, the results are much different...Another question asked coaches if they read the media's coverage of their team. It was split with half saying yes and half saying no. So there's a 50/50 chance George O'Leary is reading this column. Which 50 are you picking?...Final thought: I've never seen it rain cats and dogs and if I did I'd get video of it because no one would believe me.

Marc Daniels' From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men's basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF-ISP Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts "The Beat of Sports" on ESPN 1080 in Orlando from 9-11 a.m.