John Denton's Knights Insider: Seniors Excited For First Ranking

Nov. 8, 2010

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By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Already owners of a big win against Houston on Friday night, UCF football players Bruce Miller, Josh Linam, David Williams and others sat around on Saturday watching college football with a particular rooting interest.

The group knew that the Knights, winners of five straight games and the clear leaders atop Conference USA, were on the cusp of being ranked for the first time in school history. So Miller and his crew naturally hoped for some teams to lose to assure UCF a chance to crack the rankings for the first time.

And almost right on cue, NC State lost to Clemson, Florida State fell in the final seconds to North Carolina and Baylor was routed by Oklahoma State. And many from that same group were at lunch together on Sunday afternoon when the call came that the Knights had reached No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 25 in the Associated Press poll.

``We watched all day long and I'd hate to say that we cheered against them, but we definitely had some favorites that were up against teams who were right around that No. 25 mark,'' Miller said with a chuckle. ``My parents saw (the ranking) on the internet and they called and let me know. I saw a lot of (teammates) at lunch and we all kind of got the news together. There was a lot of high-fiving and we were really excited.''

UCF's already-special season hit another major milestone on Sunday when the program achieved its first-ever national ranking. At No. 23, the Knights are one spot ahead of the University of Florida, and with FSU, Miami and South Florida not being ranked, the Knights are the highest-ranked team in the Sunshine State in the coaches' poll.

``It's pretty neat being ranked ahead of those guys, but we can't get caught up in all of that because we still have a lot of games ahead of us,'' standout right tackle Jah Reid said. ``We just have to finish out the season the right way. It's hard to get to the Top 25, but it's even harder to stay in it.''

The Knights (7-0 overall, 5-0 in C-USA play) host rival Southern Miss (6-3, 3-2) Saturday at 12 p.m. at Bright House Networks Stadium in the final regular-season home game. The Knights can lock up the East Division title and ultimately home field advantage in the Dec. 4 C-USA title game with two more wins. UCF, which whipped Houston 40-33 on Friday night in Texas, has won 11 consecutive C-USA games dating back to last season and won all three times its appeared on ESPN this season.

``It is a dream come true for everybody in the program. It's something that we've always strived to do and we felt we were that caliber of a team and it's good to see us finally do it,'' said Williams, who had a key interception in the Houston win. ``It's always where you finish, not where you start, so we have to keep working. I don't know how high we'll go in the Top 25, but our goal is to win the conference championship.''

Once 2-2 following heartbreaking losses to NC State and Kansas State, UCF saved its season by winning five straight games. Williams said the senior-heavy Knights were able to dig out of a slow start because their belief all along that they were one of the best teams in the country. Rallying from a 24-23 deficit Friday in Houston to win just reaffirmed that notion, Williams said.

``We're ecstatic to be ranked, but a lot of the things that we've talked about as a team in the locker room is that we felt we were a Top 25 team all along and making it into the polls doesn't change that,'' Williams said. ``One of the things that Coach (George) O'Leary mentioned to us was that when we went down to Houston and they got the lead on us, then we came back as a team and made a conscious effort to stay in the game and continue to fight. That was a good sign of a team with character. Now, we've just got to keep it rolling.''

Miller admitted on Sunday night following UCF's team meeting that he's already started to think about how high the Knights can climb in the polls if they can win out. UCF has three regular-season games left against Southern Miss, Tulane and Memphis and should be favorites in all three games. The Knights would then likely host either Houston or SMU in the league title game. And if UCF could win its second C-USA crown in four seasons, it would play in Memphis' Liberty Bowl likely against a school from the Southeastern Conference.

``I've thought about it a little bit to see how high we can go if we can finish the season with wins. It would be nice to see us finish pretty high up there,'' he said. ``We have a lot of tough football games left. This week, we can't worry about what our ranking is or what it will be if we win. We have to focus in and make sure we're ready to play on Saturday.''


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