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Know Your Foe: Texas Longhorns @ Central Florida Knights

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Game 3: Texas Longhorns at Central Florida Knights

Saturday, September 15, 2007 · 2:30 PM CT

Bright House Networks Stadium (45,301) · Orlando, Florida

Television: ESPN2     ·     Radio (Austin): KVET (1300 AM / 98.1 FM)

Series History: This is the first meeting between the two schools.

About The University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida (UCF) is located in Orlando, Florida, 13 miles east of downtown. Chartered in 1963 by the state legislature, the school was originally named Florida Tech University. The state formally changed the name to its current one in 1978.  When classes began in October 1968, only about 2,000 students were enrolled at the institution. Today, the school has over 46,000 students.

Central Florida on YouTube

There ain't much, but I did find this stirring tribute to the 2007 national championship winning cheerleading squad. If nothing else, we know the Knights will be properly motivated.

Oh I have vision, can't you see?
I'm on the move, make way for me!

UCF Football History

Central Florida fielded its first football team in 1979. It began in Division III, winning its home opener against Ft. Benning 7-6 in front of a Division III-record 14,138 fans. They would remain a Dvision III team through the 1981 season, but jumped up to Division II the following year.

In 1990, the football program jumped to Division 1-AA, finishing the season 10-4 and becoming the first-ever team to qualify for the 1-AA playoffs in its first season in the division. After five successful years in Division 1-AA, UCF's petition to join Division 1 football was approved by the NCAA. That petition came just as a young quarterback by the name of Daunte Culpepper would arrive to make the Knights a program of national note.

Culpepper and the Knights completed the 1995 season in Division 1-AA before making the jump to the top division in college football. The Knights finished with 5-6 records in each of Culpepper's two first two seasons in Division 1, but his outstanding play as a junior put the program on the national map heading into his 1998 senior year. Culpepper received preseason All-American attention from Playboy, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, and Football Digest, while the offense as a whole returned nine other starters.

The Knights would finish the 1998 season 9-2, while Culpepper shattered numerous school and national records, including Steve Young's 1983 record for season completion percentage. And as a nice tie-in to Texas, the defensive coordinator for the Knights in 1998? None other than Gene Chizik. The Knights' most successful season in school history came to a close with Culpepper finishing sixth place in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

In 2000, the Knights upset Alabama in Tuscaloosa, marking the school's biggest ever win. The current coach, George O'Leary was recognized for his 2005 turnaround of an 0-11 team into 8-5 conference champions a year later. In 2006, the Knights slipped back to 4-8. This will be O'Leary's fourth year at the helm of UCF.

2007 Season To Date

One up, one down for the Knights in 2007, as they dispatched NC State 25-23 in their season opener. The Knights built a 25-3 halftime lead before holding on in the second half to secure the victory. UCF was off last weekend.

UCF Offense

Central Florida had an outstanding opener rushing the football, led by junior tailback Kevin Smith. On the day, the Knights racked up 206 yards on the ground (4.8 per attempt), including 2 touchdowns. The story was less rosy in the passing game, where quarterback Kyle Israel completed just 12 of his 24 pass attempts for 93 yards.

The Knights' greatest strength is on the offensive line, where they return 124 combined starts. That line, plus the talented Smith, give UCF one of the best rushing attacks in Conference USA. The passing game is a bit of a question mark due to the inexperience among the receivers, but Israel does have some experience. As a junior, he completed an outstanding 65% of his passes (108-166) for 1,420 yards, including 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

UCF Defense

One of the great stories of the O'Leary turnaround was that it was accomplished overwhelmingly with freshmen and sophomores. Though the team regressed in 2006, many of those young players are now juniors and seniors. Defensively, Central Florida returns nine starters from a year ago and already showed signs of improvement in the win over NC State.

Notably, UCF's monstrous defensive line helped the Knights limit NC State to just 85 yards rushing on 32 attempts (2.6 per attempt), while the secondary managed two interceptions to help secure the win. The secondary gave up a lot of yardage to the Wolfpack (272 yards), including 2 touchdowns, but it's important to remember that NC State was playing from behind the entire game.

Early Outlook Against Texas

This is as experienced a team as Texas will face this year, as the Knights return 17 starters from a season ago. These aren't bad athletes, either - we're talking about a Florida school that's getting solid leftovers from the big boys. O'Leary's done a solid job of getting top in-state talent, and though they can't match what Mack Brown's got at Texas, this isn't a team the Longhorns can simply roll over without showing up.

The running won't come easy against the Knights, so Texas will be best served if the coaches are true to their word that this will be a pass-first attack. Texas would be wise to stretch the Knights with intermediate and deep passes early on to keep the Knights from keying in on Texas' subpar running game.

Defensively, the Longhorns must do an excellent job of containing Kevin Smith and do what they did to TCU - make the quarterback win the game. If Texas isn't able to keep Smith in check early on, it'll be forced to commit too many resources to the running game. Which will leave Texas even more vulnerable in the secondary. The play of Texas' linebackers in the running game on Saturday will be critical to limiting what UCF wants to do.