John Denton's Knights Insider: Senior Day Emotional for Many Reasons

Nov. 12, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - UCF standout defensive end Bruce Miller was discussing the expected emotional tug of Saturday's Senior Day and playing his final regular-season game ever at Bright House Networks Stadium when he abruptly stopped himself mid-sentence.

"I think it (being Senior Day) will set in when we do our walk before the game," Miller said. "There will be a lot of different emotions flying through everyone's heads. It will be different being the last home game - well, hopefully not the last home game. I have to correct myself - the last regular-season home game. It'll be different for us."

UCF (7-2 overall, 5-0 in Conference USA play) will take the field Saturday at 12 p.m. against Southern Miss (6-3, 3-2) as a ranked team for the first time in school history, but its motivation extends well beyond top-25 rankings or Senior Day emotions. The Knights want one more home game at Bright House Networks Stadium after Saturday, and the only way to guarantee that is to keep on winning.

A UCF win on Saturday and another one next week at Tulane would clinch the East Division of C-USA and home field advantage for the league title game on Dec. 4. UCF lost out on a chance to clinch those things on Saturday when East Carolina rallied past UAB on Thursday night. So the Knights know they must keep on winning.

"It's a big motivation for us because we all really want to host the championship game," Miller said. "We have to take it one game at a time like we have the past five (conference games) and focus in on Southern Miss."

Winning is something UCF has done a lot of lately, rolling up five consecutive victories to remain as the lone undefeated team in conference play. And dating back to last season, the Knights have proved themselves to be the dominant team in C-USA by winning 11-consecutive league games.

The run helped UCF surge into college football's top-25 national rankings for the first time in school history. UCF is at No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, making the Knights the highest-ranked team in the state of Florida. They are No. 25 in the Associated Press poll and the only C-USA team ranked all season.

Senior outside linebacker Derrick Hallman said that the ranking was confirmation of what the Knights have known all along - that they are clearly one of the best football teams in the country. Hallman, who was voted as one of the team's captains earlier this week along with David Williams, Jah Reid and Miller, said the Knights would have cracked the polls much earlier in the season had they not lost in heartbreaking fashion to NC State (28-21) and Kansas State (17-13).

"We felt like since the spring that we were one of the best teams," Hallman said. "We knew since the spring how talented this team was. We just didn't execute on a few plays in the two games that we lost. I didn't think we'd be ranked coming into the season because we lost our bowl game, but I knew without a doubt that we'd be ranked. Like I said in the preseason, I thought we'd be undefeated this whole year and that we had the potential to win every game."

UCF's run to the top of the conference has been fueled by a senior class that is the largest of George O'Leary's tenure as head coach at UCF. O'Leary said the group has been influential on and off the field and it has been the driving force behind what looks and feels like a special season. UCF is already bowl eligible, meaning most of the players in this class will play in their third postseason game in the past four years.

"If I had to pick one word to describe this football team it would be perseverance," O'Leary said. "I think (the senior class) fought through a lot of bad situations in four or five years, but they also had a lot of great moments, too."

But an infusion of youth, mixed with the senior leadership, has helped to put the Knights in position to win every game. The dynamic growth of freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey and an offense that has become unstoppable has made UCF C-USA's most complete team.

Godfrey, the nation's most efficient true freshman quarterback, showed off his dazzling potential a week ago at Houston when he ran for 105 yards and a touchdown and passed for 294 yards and another two scores. Godfrey, who took over the starting duties three games into the season, has been so good that UCF has averaged 41.5 points in five conference games and in the past eight quarters they have punted just two times.

"We feel great about the offense right now and the way (offensive coordinator) Coach (Charlie) Taaffe is calling things," said Godfrey, who has accounted for 1,799 yards and 12 touchdowns already this season. "We just feel like the offense is rolling right now."

Godfrey's impact on the offense has been undeniable, but he's also made quite an impression on UCF's defense because of his ability to both keep drives alive and put points on the scoreboard. UCF is among the nation's leaders in time of possession per game (33:59) and it is converting on third downs at a whopping 51 percent success rate.

Hallman said the Knights owe much of what they've accomplished this season - the first national ranking, the undefeated conference mark and the shot at the hosting the C-USA title game - their kid quarterback.

"I knew as soon as he got settled in and got his feet beneath him that he'd be our best player," Hallman said. "I told him, `Man, you are going to be the prodigy of the program.' And by the end of this year he'll be the face of the program. We had to go against him in camp with the No. 1 defense against the No. 2 offense. He just makes plays and keeps plays alive. They worry about him passing and he takes off running and they worry about the run and he hits a guy deep for a touchdown. It's crazy to see what he's done."


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.