NCF Nation: Bruce Miller

2010 non-AQ All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
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Our final look at the 2010-11 bowl season leaves us with the non-AQ all bowl team:

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeCorey Robinson
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyTroy quarterback Corey Robinson threw four touchdown passes in the New Orleans Bowl.
QB Corey Robinson, Troy: There were plenty of candidates to choose from, but Robinson gets the nod. He went 32-of-42 for 387 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in a dominating 48-21 win against Ohio in the R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

RB Adonis Thomas, Toledo: His team might have lost, but it wasn’t really Thomas’ fault. He did all he could to help the Rockets, rushing for 193 yards and 2 touchdowns (averaging 8 yards a carry) in a 34-32 loss to FIU in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

RB Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State: Hillman ran for a Poinsettia Bowl-record 228 yards in a 35-14 win against Navy. He also scored three rushing touchdowns and caught the first touchdown pass of his career, and set the school record for rushing yards by a freshman.

OL Matt Reynolds, BYU: Helped the Cougars run for 219 yards on the ground in a 52-24 win against UTEP. The Cougars also did not give up a sack in the game.

OL Nate Potter, Boise State: Helped the Broncos rush for 202 yards in a 26-3 win against Utah in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

OL Logan Pegram, Northern Illinois: He was part of a terrific effort from a Huskies' offensive line that totally dominated the Humanitarian Bowl. The Huskies shut down the Fresno State passing attack, holding the best sack duo in the country in Chris Carter and Logan Harrell without a sack.

OL Joe Pawlak, Northern Illinois: Also part of the Huskies' offensive line that opened holes for Chad Spann and Chandler Harnish, and allowed the Huskies to run for 203 yards.

C Trask Iosefa, San Diego State: Helped the Aztecs pile up 279 yards on the ground in a win against Navy, and held the Midshipmen without a sack.

WR Greg Salas, Hawaii: The Warriors looked terrible on offense, and Salas was the only player who seemed to show up. You have to give a nod to a guy who led all receivers during bowl season with 214 yards on 13 catches. He added two scores in a 62-35 loss to Tulsa in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

WR Cody Hoffman, BYU: Had eight catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-24 win against UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl for the first 100-yard game of his career.

TE Virgil Green, Nevada: Had 62 yards on four catches in a 20-13 win against Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. He helped open up the offense early in the game.

DEFENSE

DE Jake Coffman, Northern Illinois: Set a Humanitarian Bowl record with three sacks, added another 1.5 tackles for a loss and forced a fumble en route to a 40-17 win against Fresno State.

DE Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy: Had eight tackles, including three for a loss, and a New Orleans Bowl record 2.5 sacks in a 48-21 win against Ohio in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

DL Bruce Miller, UCF: Led the best defensive effort of the season, helping hold Georgia to 82 yards rushing, while notching eight tackles and 1.5 sacks in a 10-6 win against the Bulldogs in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

DL Shea McClellin, Boise State: The Broncos had a dominating performance against Utah, holding the Utes to 200 total yards. McClellin had one of the team’s four sacks.

LB Tank Carder, TCU: He only had the biggest play of the game, swatting down a 2-point conversion with two minutes left to save a 21-19 win against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio.

LB Curnelius Arnick, Tulsa: He had two interceptions, including one that was returned 54 yards for a touchdown in a 62-35 win against Hawaii in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.

LB Stephen Anderson, Army: Had 10 tackles, one interception and half a sack in Army’s 16-14 win against SMU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. The defensive effort was its best of the season and allowed the Black Knights to finish 2010 with a winning record for the first time since 1996.

S Colin Jones, TCU: He had a career-high 10 tackles and also added two pass break-ups in the 21-19 win against Wisconsin.

S Kreg Brown, FIU: Brown had the first two interceptions of his career, but they were mighty big ones in a 34-32 win against Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. His second interception in the fourth quarter set up a touchdown that gave FIU a 28-24 lead.

CB Dayonne Nunley, Miami (Ohio): His 52-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter gave Miami its first lead of the game en route to a 35-21 win against Middle Tennessee in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. He also had a fumble recovery.

CB Josh Robinson, UCF: Not only did he have an interception, he helped keep A.J. Green in check, allowing him just 77 yards in receptions – and a long of only 18 yards in a win against Georgia.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Brian Stahovich, San Diego State: He might have only punted three times in a win against Navy, but all three of his punts landed inside the 20, and he averaged 40.3 yards a kick. Navy didn’t return a punt.

PK Jack Griffin, FIU: Nailed a 34-yard field goal with no time left to give FIU the win against Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. He made his other field-goal attempt in the game, a 31-yarder, and all his extra-point attempts.

PR Rishard Matthews, Nevada: His 72-yard punt return for a touchdown ended up making a huge difference in a 20-13 win against Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. It was Nevada’s first punt return for a touchdown since 2001.

KR T.Y. Hilton, FIU: His 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter helped spark the Panthers’ rally in the win against Toledo in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Hilton finished with 174 yards on five kickoff returns.

*AP Damarius Johnson, Tulsa: Had to add in the all-purpose category to give a nod to Johnson, who had 329 all-purpose yards and set the NCAA career record in that category in the win against Hawaii.

Q&A: UCF coach George O'Leary

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
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I had a chance to sit down with UCF football coach George O’Leary and asked about some of his expectations headed into spring football. Here is a little of what he had to say:

Where do you want to see improvement from quarterback Jeff Godfrey during spring practice?

George O'Leary: His pocket presence. He’s really done a wonderful job for a true freshman, but when you look at the season and you look at how many open receivers we had, that experience of pocket presence. It doesn’t always have to be a rush. Go to the second or third receiver. That’s where he needs to improve and I think he will. He improved each game. Next year, he’ll have all the bullets in the gun as far as the game plan so we’ll have a lot more ways of attacking people.

Did he exceed your expectations?

GO: He did. True freshman quarterbacks, for them to play at the Division I level at the level he played -- conference championship, bowl championship -- is outstanding. There’s no question the talent he has is only going to get better and better as his experience improves.

What will you do at backup with Rob Calabrese coming back from a knee injury?

GO: Right now, Blake Bortles will be the backup. Rob is still at quarterback but I want to look at him at receiver. He’s too good an athlete not to keep on the field in some way. His leadership -- Rob is a senior and very well respected. Sometimes that area of the game is not looked at the way it should be. That was the key this past season. We had a bunch of kids that were a bunch of seniors that really showed the way on the field but showed it off the field, too. Rob is one of those kind of kids.

And Calabrese is OK with moving to receiver?

GO: He’s going to line up there and we’ll also have the opportunity to use him at quarterback. The flexibility and versatility is going to help us and help Jeff and help Blake. I was very impressed with Blake Bortles this fall on the show teams. He’s a strong guy who can throw. He’s athletic enough to run everything we want to run so putting him at 2 gives him an opportunity to get a lot more reps and gives Rob an opportunity to work on some of the skills I hope will help the team.

What will you do at running back with Brynn Harvey coming back?

GO: Brynn will line up behind Latavius [Murray] to start. The only thing I promise is the first snap. That depth chart will be adjusted as spring ball goes on.

With some of the losses you took on defense, do you think the offense may be ahead in the spring?

GO: I would think right now with the people we have coming in midyear there’s going to be a lot of battles on the field defensively. The secondary is pretty much intact. Linebacker corps: we have some young kids who have the size and athleticism. We have to see where they’re at. Defensive line, you graduate [Bruce] Miller and David Williams. You’ve got people at that position. We have a chance to be a very solid defense, no question there. There’s going to be a lot of competition in the spring, which I like. You need to keep competition. I don’t think there’s any positions given out because you played last year. You’ve got to compete for them and the kids know that. When you leave the two-deep in the spring, that’s how we line up in the preseason and then you really worry about game planning and getting things done the right way. The spring is a way to make the team and also win a position.

You spoke about leadership earlier. How do you replace leaders such as Bruce Miller and Derrick Hallman?

GO: I met with the team [Wednesday]. There are 17 seniors next year. I said there were 19 last class. They didn’t just start being leaders in spring ball and preseason. They started the first day of winter workouts. I think collectively you guys have to understand there are right ways to do things and wrong ways. If you take charge of your football team from the locker room to the classroom, socially, in all facets, that’s how you develop respect. You’re only as good as your senior class.

Who or what are you most looking forward to seeing in the spring?

GO: I’m anxious to see at linebacker how Ray Shipman comes along. Jose Jose is another one that’s come in -- he’s in school already. From a defensive standpoint, I think it’s going to all come together. Offensively I just want to see the maturity of the offensive line, I want to see where is the depth chart at running back. And obviously at the receiving corps we’re losing kids, but we have some talented kids coming up. JJ Worton and Josh Reese -- how do they fit in and where are they at as far as Division I football is concerned?
Earlier this week, I gave you an update on non-AQ players in the various all-star games set to be played later this month. We have a few more names to add to the East-West Shrine Game roster. The game is set for Jan. 22 in Orlando at the Citrus Bowl.

Virgil Green, TE, Nevada

Bruce Miller, DE, UCF

Jah Reid, OT, UCF

Vai Taua, RB, Nevada

Brandyn Thompson, CB, Boise State

Winston Venable, S, Boise State

Ryan Winterswyk, DE, Boise State

Instant Analysis: UCF 10, Georgia 6

December, 31, 2010
12/31/10
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UCF beat Georgia 10-6 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Friday afternoon. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: UCF had to overcome plenty of adversity. UCF had a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game taken off the board because of a penalty. Freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey hurt his ankle early in the game and was gimpy for the rest of it. He threw two early interceptions, and receivers dropped plenty of balls. UCF also lost linebacker Derrick Hallman to an ankle injury and running back Ronnie Weaver to a shoulder injury. But the UCF defense kept the Knights in the game, with two interceptions off Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and a fierce pass rush -- what you come to expect from the top defense in Conference USA. The UCF offense was finally able to put a touchdown on the board in the fourth quarter. After that, the UCF offense went conservative, and gave the ball back to Georgia with 2:20 to go. The Bulldogs drove down the field, thanks to two fourth-down conversions. But Bruce Miller had a huge sack, forcing Georgia into a Hail Mary situation with no time on the clock. UCF batted it down in the end zone for its first bowl win in school history.

Turning point: UCF finally took advantage of a long drive in the fourth quarter, going 11 plays for 65 yards to take a 10-6 lead with 9:01 to play. Latavius Murray scored on the 10-yard run, but the biggest key on that drive was a 10-yard third-down completion from Godfrey to Brian Watters. That conversion gave the Knights a first-and-goal at the 10 and set up the winning touchdown.

Stat of the game: 6. Georgia tied its season-low point total.

Player of the game: Murray was able to run through some holes in the Georgia defense and also had the longest play of the day, an 18-yard run, in addition to the game-winning touchdown. He finished with 18 carries for 104 yards, his second 100-yard game of the season.

Unsung hero of the game: UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable. His game plan slowed down a Georgia offense that had scored 30-plus points in seven straight games. Georgia had no running lanes, and the UCF defense was relentless on Murray. Not only that, UCF completely took away the big play from the Bulldogs. A.J. Green may have led the team with eight receptions for 77 yards, but his longest reception of the day was only 18 yards.

What it means: UCF not only won its first bowl game in four appearances, the Knights also won 11 games for the first time in school history and got their third ever victory over an FBS opponent. No question this has been the best season in school history, with the school's first Top 25 ranking and another Conference USA championship. Now the big question is whether UCF can use this as the next step to elevate its program. There has always been talk that UCF is a sleeping giant, and now finally UCF can proclaim it has something over the other FBS teams in the state -- more wins than they do. UCF cannot waste this season's success.

UCF in need of first ever bowl win

December, 30, 2010
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UCF has accomplished almost everything it set out to do this season.

The Knights (10-3) won a Conference USA championship. They got the first Top 25 ranking in school history. They have more wins than any other FBS program in the state.

Now comes the one thing that has forever eluded them. A bowl win.

Making it to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Georgia (6-6) on Friday is simply not good enough. Not when you have designs on building a respectable non-AQ program.

“I definitely think a win will validate the program,” linebacker Derrick Hallman said. “People say, ‘They have a lot of wins, but who have they beaten?’ This will be a statement.”

UCF is 0-3 in its brief bowl history. It has been playing on the FBS level since 1996, but it was not until coach George O’Leary arrived that the Knights started playing in conference championship and bowl games. The Knights have taken all the right steps, but a bowl win is the next big leap.

“The first time we went to bowls was when we got here. Getting there was what they looked at,” O’Leary said. “Now you get to bowls and the whole purpose is to win.”

UCF has had its share of bowl heartbreak. A quick recap:

The Knights came the closest to a win in its first ever bowl appearance in 2005, against Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. UCF had engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in NCAA history, going from zero wins to eight. The Knights sent the game into overtime after recovering an onside kick and scoring with 55 seconds remaining. But kicker Matt Prater missed the tying extra point in overtime and UCF lost 49-48.

On the heels of its first Conference USA championship in 2007, UCF faced Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. But the Knights were not quite ready for prime time, turning the ball over four times, missing two field goals and managing just 86 yards passing. They went 4-of-17 on third down and lost 10-3.

Last season, UCF did not have far to go, playing Rutgers in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg. But once again the Knights failed to show up, mustering 35 yards on the ground and again failing on third down, converting just 4-of-15 attempts in a 45-24 loss.

But there is something different about this team. For one, it is experienced, especially on defense. UCF features 19 seniors, including 11 starters – seven on defense. The senior class has 32 wins, tied with the senior class of 1990 for the most in school history. They won the first two conference championships in school history, tied the school record for wins in a season twice (10) and have taken it upon themselves to try to make this program into an elite one.

“We want to leave this program on the right foot,” Hallman said. “We were part of the first conference championship. We were part of another conference championship, and we want to be a part of the first bowl victory.”

What would make a victory in this game even better is the opponent. UCF is just 2-45 against teams from automatic qualifying conferences since it moved up to FBS in 1996. The Knights came oh-so-close to beating NC State and Kansas State this season. Its last win against an AQ school was to open the 2007 against NC State.

A win over an SEC opponent would be the perfect cap to all the accomplishments the senior class has made. But it could also potentially serve as a new beginning for a program struggling to make its own name.

“Our team right now is really moving in the right direction,” senior defensive end Bruce Miller said. “The next step for us is this bowl win. It’s really big for us to get this one against a tradition-rich program in Georgia. Winning that game is what everyone wants to see.”

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: UCF 3 keys

December, 30, 2010
12/30/10
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You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for UCF in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against Georgia on Friday:

1. Get after Aaron Murray. UCF had the top defense in Conference USA and has the ability to put pressure on quarterbacks. Murray has been sacked 21 times this season, and UCF has two terrific sack-masters in Bruce Miller and Darius Nall -- two Georgia products who would love nothing else than to show the Bulldogs what they missed. Miller won C-USA Defensive Player of the Year honors, while Nall has an inspirational story, having come back to play after being treated for cancer. The two have combined for 15.5 sacks this season. UCF had five sacks in the C-USA title game against SMU and a big reason why the Knights were able to shut SMU down was because of defensive pressure.

2. Contain A.J. Green. UCF cornerback Josh Robinson has had his share of struggles in coverage this season, but he did an excellent job on SMU leading receiver Aldrick Robinson in the C-USA title game, holding him to three catches for 43 yards. Robinson was highly motivated to prove himself in that game. The motivation should be even greater against Green, expected to be a high first-round pick in the NFL draft should he leave school early. Aldrick Robinson was a better matchup for Josh Robinson because of their similar statures. Both are 5-foot-10. But Green has a huge size advantage at 6-foot-4. He is more physical and more powerful than Aldrick Robinson, which is another big reason why UCF has got to get pressure on Murray.

3. Get the ground game going. UCF has four capable players who can run the ball: Ronnie Weaver, Latavius Murray, quarterback Jeff Godfrey and Jonathan Davis. Weaver, Murray and Godfrey have combined to score 31 rushing touchdowns this season. Murray had a terrific game against SMU, with 115 total yards and two touchdowns. Georgia has given up chunks of yards on the ground this season, allowing opponents an average of 149 yards a game. So it is going to be important for UCF to establish the run early to allow Godfrey more freedom in the pass game.

O'Leary wins C-USA coaching award

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
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UCF coach George O'Leary won Conference USA Coach of the Year honors, while East Carolina senior WR/KR/PR Dwayne Harris won the league's Most Valuable Player Award on Wednesday.

In other awards:

Tulsa QB G.J. Kinne was selected Offensive Player of the Year.

UCF DE Bruce Miller was selected Defensive Player of the Year.

Tulsa KR/PR Damaris Johnson was selected Special Teams Player of the Year.

UCF QB Jeff Godfrey was named Freshman of the Year.

East Carolina QB Dominique Davis was named Newcomer of the Year.

Harris set the school single-season records with 1,055 receiving yards and 93 receptions, and averaged 171 all-purpose yards a game. He also became just the second Pirate to ever record over 1,000 receiving yards in a year.

Kinne ranks first in C-USA for total offense (322 ypg) and second for pass efficiency (141.8) and passing yards per game (275.6 ypg). Kinne led Tulsa to the No. 1 ranking in C-USA in rushing offense, scoring offense and total offense. In all, he threw for 3,307 yards and 28 TDs, and has rushed for 557 yards and 7 TDs.

Miller becomes the first C-USA player to win consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards since Adalius Thomas of Southern Miss in 1998-99. Miller owns the UCF career record for sacks with 34. The three-time All-Conference selection has recorded 55 tackles, seven sacks and a team-high 11.5 tackles for loss this season. He also returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Johnson leads the nation for the second straight year in all-purpose yards with a 191.8-yard per game average. He became the FBS and C-USA record-holder for career kickoff return yards in only his junior year and currently has 3,308 career KOR yards.

Godfrey is is 9-2 as a starter, completing 68.4 percent of his passes, tops among all FBS quarterbacks. Godfrey is 143-of-209 for 2,042 yards and 13 touchdowns with just six interceptions, and also has rushed for 546 yards and 10 scores.

Davis established East Carolina single-season records in touchdown passes (36), attempts (552), completions (358) and passing yards (3,699) this fall. He leads C-USA in passing yards per game (308.2) and stands second in total offensive yards per game (320.1).

O'Leary won his third Conference USA Coach of the Year award. He also was twice named ACC Coach of the Year, giving him five Conference Coach of the Year awards, a figure that trails only South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier (six) and Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson (six) among active FBS coaches. UCF went 10-3 this season, got its first national ranking and won the league championship game.

The awards were selected by the league's 12 head coaches.

UCF Knights season recap

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
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Expectations were high going into the season thanks to a stout defense returning, but the big question is whether UCF would follow its maddening trend: down year following a good year. Well, the Knights broke that trend in a big way, posting back-to-back winning seasons for the first time under coach George O’Leary while winning their second Conference USA championship game. The defense was as good as advertised with defensive end Bruce Miller leading the way. UCF ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense and run defense. True freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey emerged as a star after taking over starting duties from veteran Rob Calabrese early in the season. He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency, and can use his legs to scramble out of trouble as well. Depth at running back was a pleasant surprise, considering incumbent Brynn Harvey missed the entire season with a knee injury. Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver combined for over 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns. Now UCF has to keep building on the success it has had over the last two seasons to begin putting itself on the radar.

Offensive MVP: QB Jeff Godfrey. As outlined above, he has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this season, and went 9-2 as a starter. O’Leary has been reluctant to play true freshmen at quarterbacks in the past, but there was no hesitation this time around because Godfrey is so good.

Defensive MVP: DE Bruce Miller. The leader of the defense, Miller led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss, 18 quarterback hurries and was second with seven sacks. He and Darius Nall were big forces on the line. Nall had 8.5 sacks and 14 hurries.

Turning point: UCF earned the first ranking in school history in November, then promptly lost to Southern Miss 31-21. But the Knights used that loss as motivation, especially the defense. In three wins after that loss, they gave up an average of 12.6 points a game and won the league title.

What’s next: UCF plays Georgia in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, looking for its first bowl win in four tries.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl

December, 6, 2010
12/06/10
2:11
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Georgia Bulldogs (6-6) vs. UCF Knights (10-3)

Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Georgia take by SEC blogger Chris Low: For a while there, it looked like there was no way Georgia would keep alive its bowl streak, especially after losing four straight games for the first time in the Mark Richt era.

But the Bulldogs battled back and gained bowl eligibility on the final Saturday of the regular season with a 42-34 win over Georgia Tech, extending their bowl streak to 14 consecutive appearances.

The best part about this season for Georgia was the way redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray played. He’s passed for 2,851 yards this season, the second most ever for an SEC freshman quarterback. He’s thrown 24 touchdown passes and only six interceptions and also has four touchdowns runs.

Unfortunately, Murray didn’t have star receiver A.J. Green to throw to all season. Green was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games for selling one of his game jerseys, but he’s been a favorite target ever since returning.

The Bulldogs had their ups and downs in their first year in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense and still need to recruit to that scheme, in particular add some bigger defensive linemen. But junior outside linebacker Justin Houston certainly flourished. He’s second in the SEC with 10 sacks and is a blur coming off the edge.


UCF take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: The Knights won their second Conference USA title on Saturday over SMU and hope that this win allows them to turn the corner and be taken seriously in Florida. After all, they have watched Florida, Florida State, Miami and even USF get all the headlines while they struggle for consistency.

This is actually the first season they have posted back-to-back winning campaigns since George O’Leary became coach in 2004. They have the best run defense and total defense in Conference USA and are led by defensive ends Bruce Miller and Darius Nall, and linebacker Derrick Hallman is the leader of the unit.

One point to watch -- cornerback Josh Robinson has been burned badly at times this season on the deep ball, so you can expect Georgia to take advantage with A.J. Green. Robinson did come up big against SMU because he knew the target would be on him. Well, it’s going to be even bigger against the Bulldogs.

The offense is balanced, and is led by a true freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who has been outstanding. UCF also has great depth at running back with Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver. The Knights need one more win to set the school record for most wins, but they are 0-3 in bowl appearances. Also, the Knights only own two wins over schools from AQ conferences -- Alabama (2000) and NC State (2007). So if they do want to be taken seriously, they need to win a game like this one.

Video: UCF DE Bruce Miller

December, 4, 2010
12/04/10
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Andrea Adelson talks with UCF’s Bruce Miller about winning the Conference USA title.

UCF on the rise

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
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ORLANDO – Bruce Miller got a phone call from his parents while he was eating lunch. Derrick Hallman started getting text messages in church. Jeff Godfrey saw it on the local news.

Good news does not take long to travel fast these days.

[+] EnlargeJeff Godfrey
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackJeff Godfrey and his Central Florida teammates are excited about their top-25 rankings in the AP and coaches' polls.
UCF had just earned the first ranking in school history – No. 25 in the AP poll and No. 23 in the coaches’ poll -- and players quickly started learning about it Sunday afternoon.

“I just felt appreciated,” said Miller, a defensive end who needs two more sacks to become the school career leader. “It was exciting. We’ve never seen that before. It was different and I know all the guys enjoyed that.”

UCF has been more of a star-crossed program than a successful one throughout its history. Fans have become accustomed to inconsistency and disappointment, to being told they were just not good enough to join a big-time conference the last time the Big East expanded. The insult was made even worse when the league decided on cross-state rival USF instead.

The joke going into this season was that it was an even-numbered year, and well, UCF just has plain old bad luck on even-numbered years. The Knights have made just three bowl games in their history, losing all three. But they have followed up each bowl appearance with a losing season.

They were embarrassed 45-24 to Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl last season, but players believed their veteran group would break the string of inconsistency that has plagued this program. They set a goal when the season started to host the Conference USA championship game.

With nearly the entire defense returning and most players on offense back, the goal seemed realistic. Now it is on the verge of happening. The Knights (7-2, 5-0) are the only team that is undefeated in league play headed into the final home game of the season Saturday against Southern Miss (6-3, 3-2).

If East Carolina loses to UAB tonight, UCF can clinch the East with a win against the Golden Eagles.

“We completely understand what’s on the line and what we’re playing for this weekend and in the weeks to come,” Miller said. “We’re not playing for a ranking. We’re playing for our goal, which is a conference championship.”

Miller anchors a unit that was one of the best in the league last season and is one of the best again this season, ranking No. 1 in total defense and scoring defense. Much of the focus this season has been on Miller, the Conference USA preseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year, so others have stepped up. That includes Darius Nall, who leads the team with 7.5 sacks. Nall has an inspirational story, having overcome cancer to return to the team last season.

But perhaps the biggest story of the season has been the emergence of Godfrey, a true freshman out of Miami. He chose UCF in part because the Knights allowed him to play quarterback. Many of the other schools that recruited him said he was too small for the position at 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds, and wanted him to play something else.

He started the season behind Rob Calabrese on the depth chart, but saw spot duty. Many thought it was only a matter of time before he took over. Sure enough, he became the starter in Week 3 -- though Calabrese still played some. But Godfrey has been the full-time guy since Calabrese was lost for the season with a knee injury against Marshall in Week 6.

Godfrey has gotten better each week, and is a dual threat – he can run the ball, too. He has thrown for 1,300 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions, and rushed for 499 yards and six touchdowns. Last week in a 40-33 win against Houston, he had 399 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.

“I knew once he got settled in and got his feet beneath him, he was going to be our best player,” said Hallman, second on the team in tackles. “I told him, ‘You’re going to be a prodigy in this program. By the end of this year, you’re going to be the face of this program.’ ”

UCF has a bright future with Godfrey at the helm, but first this program has to start building consistency for more than a few seasons. The ranking is nice. But there is more to be done.

“We’re not done yet,” Godfrey said. “We want to get to our destination, and that’s the conference championship.”

Non-AQ Did you know: Week 8

October, 22, 2010
10/22/10
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Time for another edition of non-AQ Did You Know, Week 8 style. Thanks to the conference and school sports information directors, along with ESPN Stats & Information for some of these nuggets.
  • Utah State will unveil a bronze statue of Merlin Olsen in a ceremony Saturday a few hours before kickoff against Hawaii. Olsen, the greatest athlete in school history, died in March after a battle with cancer. He was a three-year lettermen on the offensive and defensive lines from 1959-61, earning All-American honors during both his junior and senior seasons. He went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. The statue depicts Olsen in full uniform and pads, with his helmet under his arm. When set on its base, his gaze will directly face toward the Olsen family home in Logan where he grew up, roughly two miles in a direct line from where the statue will stand.
  • Earlier this week, Jonesboro, Ark., Mayor Harold Perrin issued an official proclamation at the city council meeting recognizing the first ever nationally televised home game in Arkansas State football history. The Red Wolves host Middle Tennessee on Nov. 2, in a game set to be shown on ESPN2. “This is Jonesboro’s opportunity to be in the national spotlight,” Perrin said. “The best way to make a significant impact is to fill the stadium. Not only will the Arkansas State football team be on display, the entire city will have a chance to show the nation what makes Jonesboro a great place to live.”
  • Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson has a chance to set the school record for career touchdown passes this weekend against Miami (Ohio). He currently has 29, tied with Cleve Bryant (1967-69) atop the list. Last week, receiver Terrence McCrae set the school record for career touchdown passes with 16, moving past the record Todd Snyder set from 1967-69. The Bobcats have won six straight MAC road games. With a win Saturday, they would tie the school record for consecutive MAC road wins, set from 1959-61.
  • Colorado State plays Utah on Saturday. The Rams’ last win over a ranked opponent came against No. 7 Colorado in 2002. The Rams have dropped their past 11 against AP ranked teams.
  • Tulsa’s Damaris Johnson is closing in on the Conference USA record for kickoff return yardage. He is now just 80 yards away from passing SMU’s Jessie Henderson for the mark. Henderson has 2,945 yards on 122 returns from 2005-08.
  • UCF defensive end Bruce Miller has 30 career sacks. He is the nation’s active leader in both sacks and tackles for loss (51).
  • New Mexico State has just three sacks on the season, tied for the fewest in the nation.
  • Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs needs just three rushing touchdowns to tie Chris McCoy for the school record for career rushing touchdowns. McCoy rushed for 43 touchdowns as a quarterback from 1995-97.
  • Utah kicker Joe Phillips is tied for the most consecutive field goals in the nation by an active player. Phillips has converted on his last 17 field goal attempts, a second record, tying him for first in the nation with David Ruffer of Notre Dame. Utah will play Notre Dame on Nov. 13.

Non-AQ players on watch lists

August, 10, 2010
8/10/10
1:00
PM ET
Several watch lists have come out in the last few days. Here are some of the top non-AQ players to watch.

Maxwell Award, presented to best player in college football:

Houston QB Case Keenum and Boise State QB Kellen Moore are on the watch list again. Both were semifinalists for the award in 2009. The others who join them:

UTEP RB Donald Buckram
TCU QB Andy Dalton
Navy QB Ricky Dobbs
Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick
Temple RB Bernard Pierce

Walter Camp, presented to best player in college football:

Everybody on the Maxwell list, plus Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher.

Bednarik Award, presented to the best defensive player:

TCU LB Tank Carder
Boise State DE Ryan Winterswyk
Southern Miss LB Korey Williams
Temple DE Adrian Robinson
Nevada DE Dontay Moch
UCF DE Bruce Miller
Army DE Josh McNary

Conference USA media days recap

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
11:40
AM ET
Let us recap what happened at media days for the non-AQ conferences. Today we feature Conference USA.

Preseason favorite: Conference USA does not select preseason favorites.

Preseason Players of the Year: But it does select preseason players of the year and a preseason first team. Houston QB Case Keenum was selected the Offensive Player of the Year; UCF DE Bruce Miller the Defensive Player of the Year; Houston return specialist Tyron Carrier the Special Teams Player of the Year. Here is the full first team.

Seen and heard: A year after holding its media days via video conferencing, the league went back to a more traditional summit in Memphis.

Commissioner Britton Banowsky made headlines when he said his league was considering going to a nine-game league schedule to help it field a BCS buster. Part of the reasoning is because so many C-USA teams play difficult nonconference schedules against BCS teams. Everybody but UTEP plays at least 2 schools from BCS conferences this year.

But on the flip side, many of the C-USA programs are cash-strapped, so those BCS games give them guaranteed money that help the entire athletic department.

"Our coaches are pleading for it," Banowsky said. "But it's a difficult dynamic because there's an economic factor associated with [it] and you have to balance it. You have to pay for your athletic programs and you to have a good season ticket for the fans. It's challenging. We have talked about moving to a nine-game conference schedule, which may help moderate it."

Sure, adding another league game and taking away a game against a BCS opponent could help a team go undefeated. But it could also serve to hinder strength of schedule and its standing in the computer rankings. Take Houston as an example. It did well in 2009 with its difficult nonconference schedule, beating Oklahoma St., Texas Tech and Mississippi St. But it tripped up in Conference USA play. So a nine-game league schedule certainly would not have helped last season.

News and notes: UAB has got to find a replacement for QB Joe Webb, and fast. David Isabelle, Bryan Ellis, Emmanuel Taylor, Jonathan Perry Joe Bento are all competing for the starting job. Coach Neil Callaway wants to narrow the list soon. But there is no question losing Webb hurts. He had a combined 8,545 rushing and passing yards in his career and 65 total TDs. “There’s no doubt we’ll miss Joe Webb,” Callaway said.

Tulsa had its first losing season in five years, going 5-7, last season. But hopes are high for a turnaround in 2010. QB G.J. Kinne is on several preseason watch lists, and the Golden Hurricane return nine starters on offense. Coach Todd Graham called last season “humbling” and is hoping for a quick return to its winning ways.

UCF coach George O’Leary and UTEP coach Mike Price are the longest-serving coaches in Conference USA. Both are entering their seventh seasons at their respective schools. Hopes are high for UCF this season, but for UTEP the key is going to be improving on defense.

"If you want to watch a lot of fireworks, come watch our games," Price said. "We can score a lot of points, but we can't stop anybody on the other side. It's fast-break basketball at its best. If we can do anything defensively, we'll be a much better team and have a much better record."

SMU coach June Jones said the Mustangs would throw the ball even more now that Kyle Padron has another year experience. His team is a hot pick this season for the way it came on in 2009. That is fine with him. "We have a better chance now of sustaining because we have kids who know that feeling. You don't have to describe how to win. You have a whole locker room of kids who have done it.

"And, I just know that what we do works. And the guys have to love to come to work. And these kids do right now."

Keenum did his best to deflect the Heisman talk. Houston is considered the favorite to win C-USA because he returns. "Preseason stuff is very cool and that's definitely an honor, but the ones that really matter are at the end of the season,” he said. “The season is a long season, you know 14 weeks is a long time. We need to play at a high level each week and we'll take it week by week."

Previous recaps:
So, this might be the first of a couple ties during the countdown. As I was working on my list, I realized that I had too many players and not enough spots. So this is my attempt to make sure everyone gets their due.

No. 15(A): Josh McNary, DE, Army

2009 numbers: Ranked third in the country in tackles for loss (22.5) and fourth nationally in sacks (12.5). He also had 65 tackles and two forced fumbles.

Making the case for McNary: McNary is Army’s all-time sack leader with 18 and last year’s 12.5 sacks set a single-season record for the Black Knights. He had a season-high four sacks against Temple, which allowed less than two sacks per game. McNary is already being considered as a potential All-American candidate and should get some consideration if he continues to play at the level he played during his senior season.

No. 15(B): Bruce Miller, DE, Central Florida

2009 numbers: Led UCF and ranked fifth nationally with once sack per game (13 overall) and had 18 tackles for loss. He also had 53 tackles and seven quarterback hurries.

Making the case for Miller: Miller is the defending Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in both tackles for loss and sacks. He became the first UCF player to earn the honor. Behind Miller, the Knights led Conference USA in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, sacks and tackles for loss. The UCF defense should be equally as talented this year and Miller is expected to have another big season.

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