11:12 PM EDT, August 29, 2013
How many times have we wondered over the years when Orlando would finally get behind its hometown college football team?
There's no doubt, UCF has had trouble capturing the imagination and inspiring the finicky fan base in Central Florida. The Knights' schedule has not always been inspiring, their style of play has not always been exciting, the aura and atmosphere around their program has not always been eye-popping.
There was time when UCF could have easily stood for "Unentertaining College Football."
After Thursday night's resounding 38-7 pounding of Akron in the 2013 opener, this is a season when UCF will stand for "Undeniably Captivating Fun"
At least that's the way it feels. Granted, it's difficult to draw any conclusions after a blowout victory over an Akron team that is coming off three consecutive 1-11 seasons, but I'm telling you right now this has all the ingredients of becoming the most exciting season in UCF history.
If ever there was a time for Orlando to turn on its Knight light and jump on the UCF bandwagon, this is it.
How could any college football fan worth his weight in tailgate teriyaki chicken wings and empty beer cans not be jacked up about UCF's season? By every measure imaginable — new conference, great schedule, talented quarterback and explosive, high-powered offense — UCF's season should be wildly entertaining.
It started on the second play of the opener Thursday night — with quarterback Blake Bortles deftly delivering a 91-yard touchdown bomb to Breshad Perriman for the longest pass play in the history of the program — and who knows where it might end. Bortles even made a Johnny Manziel play at one point against Akron, bobbling the ball in the pocket, recovering it, scrambling right and firing a 39-yard touchdown pass to J.J. Worton. A few more plays like that and memorabilia dealers may soon be offering Bortles money for his autograph.
"That's yet to happen," Bortles said and laughed. "I sign for free."
Even hard-to-impress coach George O'Leary admits he's more fired up this season than usual. This is his 10th season at UCF, and it has a chance to be his biggest. His Knights won 10 games last year and recorded a bowl victory, but this season offers an opportunity for signature wins and unprecedented accomplishments.
"I'm excited," O'Leary admits. "... Our schedule is very competitive."
Not only is it competitive for the team, it's enthralling for the fans — Thursday night's opener notwithstanding. UCF hosts Steve Spurrier's SEC powerhouse South Carolina team early in the season and renews its rivalry with USF late in the season. In between are games with storied Penn State and No. 9-ranked Louisville. Not many fan bases get a chance to see their team go up against two preseason Heisman favorites — South Carolina defensive monster Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville's all-everything quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Then there's UCF's new league — the American Athletic Conference. At least this year, it offers the Knights a chance to do something they've never done before — advance to a BCS bowl game. And make no mistake about it, this UCF team has a puncher's chance to win the conference and go to the Orange Bowl.
"We've got one goal — the conference championship," O'Leary says.
Not only do the Knights have a chance to win a bunch games, they should be able to do it in entertaining fashion. Bortles might be the best quarterback in the state and is on the preseason watch list for every possible QB award. He completed 18 of 24 passes for a career-high 314 yards and three touchdowns against Akron and now has thrown 198 passes without an interception. Bortles led an offense that averaged 35 points per game last year, and this year it has a chance to be even better.
"This might be the most explosive offense we've ever had here," O'Leary said. "We've got the combination of receivers, running backs and quarterback who can all make big plays."
If ever there were an occasion to become a fan of the local college football team, this is it.
Turn on your Knight light, Orlando, and find your way aboard the UCF bandwagon.
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