I looked at the CBS Bowl Projections this morning, as I tend to do every Sunday morning. Everything seemed pretty logical in the wake of Baylor’s loss — Alabama vs. FSU was still the BCS Championship, and you had Oklahoma State, Clemson and Wisconsin all in that BCS mix — but the one thing I hadn’t necessarily expected was UCF slotted in the Sugar Bowl. I went over to ESPN — the link I was looking at was a week behind — and one expert had UCF in the Sugar, while one had ’em in the Fiesta (both BCS). Scout had them in a BCS Bowl too.
While UCF has won 10 games or more three times since 2007, they’ve never played in a BCS bowl. And if they do make it — they have USF and SMU left on the schedule, and there does not appear to be an American Athletic Conference championship game — it will be an interesting story on a couple of different levels (some more legitimate than others).
Start with George O’Leary. He’s been the head coach since 2004 (he led them to the fourth-best turnaround in NCAA history in his second year in Orlando), but he’s probably best known for the Notre Dame resume incident. In some ways, ND was his dream job (it would probably be many coaches’ dream job; the resources are immense and you’re on national TV pretty much every week), but in other ways, it’s perhaps better that it played out the way it did. But if O’Leary were to take an essentially upstart program (UCF football only came about in 1979) to a BCS bowl 10 years after joining the school, and about 13-14 years after the ND incident, that would be a nice redemption story. People in Florida are even now making the argument that UF should stand by Will Muschamp the way UCF once stood by O’Leary. O’Leary is now a semifinalist for Coach of the Year.
Then there’s Blake Bortles. When recruited, he was considered 44th at his position, with no national and state rankings; he seemed to have interest from Colorado State, Western Kentucky, and Purdue, but no true powerhouses (provided you don’t consider Purdue a powerhouse; Drew Brees did play QB for them). In high school, he was consistently in the shadow of Jeff Driskel, who ended up at UF. Driskel’s career has not gone as planned — UF’s offense has never been elite, and he broke his leg this year after being tackled immediately after throwing an INT — whereas Bortles’ stock has only risen. He’s thrown for almost 3K yards, and has 4x as many touchdowns as INTs. He completes close to 70 percent of his passes. Jesse Palmer, aka The Bachelor, is high on UCF and Bortles.
And, this probably shouldn’t stun anyone (QB has an attractive girlfriend!), but Bortles’ girlfriend is fairly attractive. Here’s a quick pic of her:
(Hopefully Musburger doesn’t call whatever bowl they’re in.)
Then there’s Storm Johnson, their leading RB; he left Miami because of a crowded house backfield. He had offers from Michigan State, Penn State, Florida State and others, so his story seems to be less about ‘redemption’ and more about finding your right fit (a model for success in the adult world!).
And then there’s this, which raced to about 700K views on YouTube within a day of it happening:
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t include these two links while discussing UCF’s rise:
(Quite possibly the catch of the year.)
(Got the Gameday treatment.)
It’ll be great to see them make a BCS bowl, if they complete this journey. We’ll have coaches ascending, QBs overcoming, beautiful sideline viewers, right fits, punishing hits, and maybe some more one-handed catches.