Nov. 13, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - From the first day of summer practice back in early August, UCF athletics director Keith Tribble noticed something special and dynamic about the chemistry of this Knights' football team.
He didn't need UCF's first-ever national ranking to tell him that UCF is in the midst of its finest football season despite Saturday's loss to Southern Miss.
``You see it in how this team practices, how they carry themselves and you see it when they play on game day. It's really a reflection on the leadership of our coaching staff and the leadership of the team,'' Tribble said. ``They are determined to be champions and that's their goal.''
UCF suffered a setback on the road to its goal of winning the Conference USA championship on Saturday by losing Southern Miss. The Knights can still win C-USA's East Division and host the league title game on Dec. 4 with wins at Tulane and at Memphis in the next two weeks.
Saturday's game against Southern Miss was UCF's first ever as a nationally ranked football team. The Knights are No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches poll and also No. 25 in the Associated Press poll.
Tribble said that there's great significance in the first-ever national ranking for the football program and the school. He said that UCF's success this season on ESPN - they are 3-0 in such games - helped to show the nation that UCF has a program on the rise.
``One of the things that we've always said is that we want our programs in the Top 25 consistently, and to have our football program there now is very special to not only the football program, but also the university,'' Tribble said. ``Football sets the table for a lot of the things that we do around here. We've had Top 25 finishes in our other sports, but when you do it in football and basketball that really makes a statement.
``I think (the success on ESPN) is very valuable. That's one of the reasons why you get these looks at the Top 25 because some 90 million people get the chance to see you play from coaches and writers and they see how well this team is playing,'' Tribble continued. ``And they get to know about UCF. You can't buy that kind of exposure.''
GOOD RETURNS: Coaches often refer to them as ``hidden yards,'' but there's certainly no overlooking the impact that UCF kick returner Quincy McDuffie has had this season getting the Knights started in good field position.
Last week against Houston, McDuffie had 147 yards on four returns (a 36.7-yard return), including a 42-yard return. And on Saturday McDuffie open the game by ripping off a 36-yard return to put UCF in position for its first score. From there, Southern Miss started kicking away from him.
McDuffie, the former 200-meter high school state champion in Florida, entered Saturday's game ranking second in the nation in kick returns at 32 yards per return. He had a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown earlier this season against NC State, giving him two scoring returns for his career. Only Todd Cleveland (1994-97) has more kick returns for touchdowns (four) in his UCF career.
McDuffie's work has helped UCF rank fourth in the country in kickoff returns at 26.27 yards. With McDuffie's TD return earlier in the season, UCF became just one of seven schools to have a kickoff return for a touchdown in each of the past four seasons.
``(Returns) were one of the big differences in the game last week (against Houston). Quincy (McDuffie) and Jamar Newsome's returns have both been really good,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said. ``That's great field position. We spend a lot of time on that phase and all phases of special teams. I think we have done a good job putting hats on people and Quincy running and same with Jamar Newsome running.''
GODFREY EFFECT: Not long after facing then second-string quarterback Jeff Godfrey back in the spring, senior linebacker Derrick Hallman predicted that the freshman phenom quarterback would soon evolve into a star at UCF.
Hallman said he had numerous conversations with Godfrey about him someday becoming ``the face of the program.'' He helped him with the transition from high school to college and encouraged him to keep working hard when he was second on the depth chart behind Rob Calabrese.
And now that Godfrey has taken control of the starting quarterback job and become a leader for the offense, Hallman predicted that the charismatic quarterback will have an effect on attracting talent to UCF in the future.
Hallman, a Fort Pierce native, predicted that other top talent from South Florida will want to attend UCF to play with Godfrey, a Miami product. Godfrey's former Miami Central High star, Joshua Reese, is redshirting this season and could team with the quarterback for years to come.
``Recruits are going to come in here because of him, definitely. He's a huge key to the future of this program,'' Hallman said. ``Especially down south (in Florida), because the Miami kids all know each other. They see Jeff up here balling and he's got a few of his teammates up here with him already. With (Joshua) Reese, I'm telling you that he's going to be the next big thing around here. A lot of those city kids out of Miami are going to be coming up here too because they want to play with Jeff.''
ETC: UCF's loss ended a streak of 11 consecutive victories in Conference USA play, the third-longest such conference streak in the nation. It also ended the five-game winning streak from this season. ... UCF's seniors were honored individually before the game with each player walking out onto the field with their parents. The players presented their mothers with flowers and they were given medals. ... When UCF failed to score in a dismal second quarter, it ended a streak of 22 consecutive quarters in which the Knights had scored. UCF had scored in every quarter since the third period of the Kansas State loss on Sept. 25. ... UCF's 99-yard drive in the first quarter was the second drive of the season of at least 90 yards. The Knights had a 98-yard drive earlier in the season against Rice with backup quarterback L.D. Crow directing the offense. UCF's last 99-yard scoring drive came in 2007 against Marshall, a drive that was capped by an 87-yard touchdown run from Kevin Smith. ... UCF senior wide out Brian Watters' 6-yard catch in the fourth quarter was the 100th reception of his career. ... UCF junior tailback Ronnie Weaver didn't need long to notch his fourth 100-yard rushing day on Saturday, running for 108 yards on his first six carries. Runs of 52 and 38 yards helped Weaver get off to a fast start on Saturday.
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.