Dec. 2, 2009
By John Denton
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Having worked with the Orange Bowl for the 13 years prior to his appointment as Athletics Director at UCF, Keith Tribble knows a thing or two about how fan support at bowl games can shape a football's program's national reputation.
Now, with UCF on its way to the Dec. 19 St. Petersburg Bowl, Tribble is hoping that UCF can enhance its reputation as a team that travels well to postseason games. Approximately 10,000 Knights fans traveled to Memphis in 2007 for the Liberty Bowl, and Tribble is hoping that UCF can double that number for the game in St. Pete later in the month.
``When they start measuring teams for bowl games they look at the ones who always take a lot of fans,'' Tribble said. ``We established a good reputation two years ago when we took almost 10,000 fans to the Liberty Bowl. We carry over that reputation to St. Pete, and not only the bowls that we have (conference tie-ins with), but also other bowls will start to look to us because they know we take a lot of fans with us to games. That's very important.''
The Knights (8-4 overall and 6-2 in Conference USA play) don't yet have an opponent for the 8 p.m. game on Dec. 19, but are guaranteed to face a team from the Big East. The St. Pete Bowl has the sixth pick from the Big East, meaning that it will likely pit either UConn, Rutgers, Pittsburgh or USF against UCF.
USF (7-4) closes the regular season on Saturday at UConn (6-5). The Bulls, UCF's arch rivals, could push to avoid playing in St. Pete after being there for the postseason last year. Rutgers (8-3) faces West Virginia, while Pitt (9-2) faces undefeated Cincinnati.
Once 2-2 early in the season, UCF salvaged its season by winning its final six conference games. Along the way, UCF rallied to beat Marshall 21-20 in dramatic fashion, knocked off No. 12 Houston for its first-ever defeat of a ranked team and pitched the largest shutout victory (49-0) in C-USA history against Tulane. And last Saturday, UCF strengthened its chances for the St. Pete Bowl by topping UAB 34-27 in Birmingham.
Tribble said he was truly impressed with the resolve of this Knights team. Watching how UCF competed early in the season in close losses to Southern Miss, East Carolina and Miami, Tribble was confident that UCF could execute a strong closing kick and get the program to a bowl game for the third time in school history.
``I said early on when we were going through the period where we had lost a couple of games and everyone was talking about, `What's happening? What's happening?' I told everybody that I have confidence in this program, confidence in George O'Leary and his staff and I knew they would do the things necessary to get us in the right way,'' Tribble said. ``We see that proof now with us going 8-4 and going to a bowl game. We have a chance to win nine games and I'm very proud of this team.''
Because C-USA teams are slotted into particular bowls based on order of finish, Tribble had to work to get the Knights into the St. Pete Bowl. All bowl money for C-USA teams is combined and divided among the 12 teams. It made the most geographical sense to send UCF across Florida to minimize expenses.
But, as Tribble pointed out, UCF must now back up its virtual home game with a large contingent of fans traveling over to St. Pete. UCF has a ticket allotment of 10,000 tickets, and Tribble has promised that the school can access thousands more tickets if demand necessitates it.
UCF also hopes that its fans will buy tickets through the school to show how truly large of a fanbase it brings to the game. The school has set up a website, www.UCFBowl.com, where fans can buy tickets and make travel plans through Anthony Travel.
``We have an allotment of 10,000 and we get judged on how many we sell through our office as compared to what's being purchased through TicketMaster,'' Tribble said.
And as Tribble knows all too well, UCF's chances of going to a bigger bowl in years to come could come down to how well the Knights travel to St. Pete. The eyes of other bowl reps - and the football nation, for that matter - will be watching, Tribble said.
``We've experienced a lot of growth already with our support, but now we really want to make a statement with having our fans over in St. Pete,'' he said. ``If we can have 20,000 or more Knights fans there cheering us on, that sends a loud message not only to the bowl people, but also to the national television audience. The people at ESPN will see that this is a school that's got it going on. So we're really hoping that our fans come over there and support us, and I think they will.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears several times per week on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at email@example.com.