Dec. 7, 2009
By John Denton
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UCF spent a week not knowing its opponent for the upcoming St. Petersburg Bowl, but that doesn't mean the Knights weren't making the proper preparations for the Dec. 19 postseason game.
UCF coach George O'Leary used the past week readying his team for a game against either Rutgers or UConn. And when the official announcement came on Sunday that the Scarlet Knights would be UCF's opponent, O'Leary and his staff were already well into the formulation of a game plan.
And he is hoping that that extra week of rest and readiness will work into UCF's favor.
``We pretty much knew it was going to come down to one or two teams and Rutgers was one of them,'' O'Leary said. ``We got a little jump on them, so maybe that will help us.
``I've watched them a bunch already, but I really didn't care who we played,'' the coach continued. ``I'm just happy to get to a bowl and play a BIG EAST opponent. It's Rutgets, so let's go play.''
Save for weight work and light conditioning drills, UCF (8-4) had last week off to heal its bumps and bruises from a long, trying season. O'Leary said the week off was good for his team and he pronounced the Knights ``totally healthy,'' heading into the showdown against Rutgers (8-4).
Following more time off for exams, UCF will re-start practice on Thursday and drill for six days before leaving for St. Pete on Dec. 15. Kickoff for the Dec. 19 game at Tropicana Field is 8 p.m.
``We're anxious to get back to practicing again,'' O'Leary said. ``The BIG EAST played last week, so they've lost some time. The good thing is we're totally healthy and we're trying to get them back in the same mindset. They're all anxious to get back at it.''
Wide receiver Rocky Ross
, one of two fifth-year seniors who will be participating in UCF's third bowl game, said the time off was good to recharge physically and mentally before beginning bowl preparations. Ross, who has battled an ankle injury for weeks, said he spent all last weekend watching other college athletes perform while he rested.
Now, Ross and his teammates are eager to see if they can carry over the momentum of UCF's stirring closing kick to the season. UCF won each of its last six Conference USA games, some of them in spectacular fashion. The Knights rallied late to beat Marshall, topped nationally ranked Houston, routed Memphis and Tulane and survived a tough road test at UAB.
Ross is actually happy that the Knights play before Christmas so that they can continue their continuity from the regular season.
``I definitely think we can carry it over,'' said Ross, who was second on the team in receptions (37), third in receiving yards (412) and tied for second in TD catches (three). ``It was good to have some time off. Hopefully that won't hurt our momentum. I think we'll get right back into it, pick up where we left off and we'll see what happens.''
Ross and middle linebacker Cory Hogue were a part of UCF teams that reached the Hawaii Bowl in 2005 and the Liberty Bowl in 2007, both heartbreakingly close losses. Ross said he will try and advise younger players about the differences in preparing for a bowl game. But most of all he will stress to his mates the importance of gaining the school's first-ever bowl victory.
``There's only one goal left and that's winning a bowl game,'' he said. ``We really want to get that first bowl win for UCF and I couldn't think of a better way to go out. That would be perfect for the seniors.''
O'Leary is well aware that some UCF fans wanted a showdown against arch-rival USF, but he's actually delighted with the matchup of Rutgers. UCF is one of just two C-USA teams facing a team from a BCS conference (BIG EAST in this case) and O'Leary likes the cross-match between schools from different regions of the country.
``Any time you can bring a northern team down to Florida, I think it's good. From a bowls standpoint, I think it's a really good matchup,'' he said. ``Any bowl is a reward for the kids and that was attractive about the St. Pete Bowl. We're playing a BCS school from the BIG EAST and the game is close to home. The BCS is what it is, but I'd change those initials.
``I just like playing another team from another section of the country.''
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.