NCF Nation: Jeff Godfrey

UCF's Godfrey happy to play big role

November, 21, 2013
Two years ago, UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey stood on the sidelines at Bright House Networks Stadium and watched as the spotlight he had been groomed for since age 6 began to fade away.

“I got benched against UTEP the last game of sophomore year, and I didn’t know why,” said Godfrey, who chose UCF for the opportunity to play quarterback. “I had so many things swirling through my head and I felt so lost. In a flash, it seemed like everything that I'd worked for my whole life was gone. It was kind of like being in the middle of a movie.”

[+] EnlargeJeff Godfrey
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJeff Godfrey doesn't get to show off his throwing arm in UCF games these days, but has made the most of a second chance at receiver.
Just 11 months before being replaced by Blake Bortles, Godfrey had completed an impressive true freshman season, leading the 2010 Knights to an 11-3 season, a Conference USA Championship and the first bowl victory in school history, all before his 19th birthday.

“Growing up, Jeff was the man in Miami. Everybody in town knew he was special very early on,” said Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, who coached Godfrey throughout his childhood. “He excelled in Pop Warner, high school, and he immediately stepped in at UCF and led them to a championship. It really seemed like Jeff was fulfilling his destiny.”

Lauded for his ability to improvise under pressure, Godfrey amassed 2,159 yards passing, 566 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns in 2010, earning Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors. But as the Miami native approached his second season under center, life off the field took a negative turn.

“At that time, I was making a lot of bad decisions,” said Godfrey, the first true freshman quarterback in FBS history to lead his team to victory in a conference championship game. “My mind was all over the place, and I had a lot of people in my ear telling me different things.”

An offseason arrest, a decrease in on-field production and academic issues headlined his sophomore season. Godfrey’s life seemed to be spiraling out of control.

“Jeff has never been a bad kid, but he had a lot of people around him that didn’t have his best interests in mind,” said UCF assistant coach Sean Beckton. “At that time in his life, he was really confused and seeking advice from some of the wrong people.”

Encouraged by those around him, Godfrey, the player once thought to be the future of UCF football, asked for a release from his scholarship and returned home to South Florida.

“That time in Jeff’s life was really tough,” said Campbell, a longtime friend of Godfrey’s father. “When everything happened, Jeff’s dad and I were more upset than he was, because we felt like he was being mistreated.”

Facing an uncertain future, Godfrey consulted those closest to him for guidance.

“I sat down with my mom and grandmother, and they told me that I needed to go back to UCF,” Godfrey said. “They told me that they didn’t raise a quitter, and that I shouldn’t give up on my team just because things were tough. For me, that was a very humbling experience.”

After a semester away from UCF, Godfrey rejoined the Knights for his junior year, a reunion that came with conditions.

“Jeff drove up from Miami, on his own, and apologized to Coach [George] O’Leary, the staff and the players,” Beckton said. “It wasn’t a situation where we just welcomed him back with open arms. It was a process, but the coaches and players voted on it and decided to give him a second chance.

“He is a very prideful young man. For Jeff to come back and make things right says him a lot about him and his maturation as a person. We told him that if he came back, he’d have to play wideout ,and Jeff told us he was willing to do anything to help the team.”

[+] EnlargeJeff Godfrey
AP Photo/Garry JonesJeff Godfrey catches the go-ahead touchdown pass at Louisville on Oct. 18. UCF won 38-35.
Since switching to wide receiver last season, Godfrey has 69 receptions for 673 yards and seven scores, including a game-winning touchdown grab to take down No. 8 Louisville on Oct. 18.

“Blake and I have a really close connection now. He knows what I’m thinking, and I know what he’s thinking without saying a thing,” Godfrey said of his relationship with the player who replaced him at quarterback. “The Louisville touchdown was pretty special for us. It’s funny because the play didn’t work out how it was planned. But, in the end, we adjusted and it helped the team win.”

As for Godfrey’s future, the senior doesn’t seem satisfied with a Hollywood ending, but rather is focused on moving forward.

“I am so thankful that Coach O’Leary and the team gave me another chance. When I came in as a freshman, I really enjoyed all of the attention and people patting me on the back,” Godfrey said. “Over the years, I’ve learned how to handle all of the outside influences and stay focused on what really matters, and that’s doing what it takes to win.

“In the big picture, coming back and moving to wide receiver has turned out to be the best thing for me, and we really have a good thing going this year. I just thank God every day that I got a second shot to play a part.”

UCF spoils Louisville's dreams

October, 19, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Lorenzo Mauldin trudged off the Papa John's Cardinal Stadium field on Friday night, his head down and with teammate Keith Towbridge's arm draped around him. Before he reached the team's locker room, Mauldin looked up and screamed a four-letter word into the night.

Louisville's players later tried their best to say everything could still work out this season, even after a 38-35 home loss to Central Florida. But Mauldin's primal yell more accurately summed up the feelings of Cardinals fans everywhere.

As a 21-point second-half lead evaporated, so too did all of No. 8 Louisville's dreams of an undefeated season and any outside shot at a national title. Stark reality: the supposed best team in school history isn't even the best team in the American Athletic Conference.

"When you're undefeated, you think about the big game and all that stuff," senior middle linebacker Preston Brown said. "But all that's out the window now with the conference we play in. Now, we've just got to win the conference and hopefully get to a BCS game."

The big questions surrounding the Cardinals this season revolved around their schedule, and that such a soft slate should be reflected in their national ranking. UCF -- a team that has also won at Penn State and lost by three points at home to South Carolina -- proved a perfectly powerful opponent and looks like a deserving Top 25 team in its own right.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Stanback
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's defense was nowhere to be found in the second half, especially on this William Stanback touchdown run.
"A lot of people don't recognize us as being a team that can compete on this level," UCF offensive lineman Joey Grant said. "I believe we just proved to everyone that we can."

Louisville will now need the Knights to lose twice just to have a chance to win the AAC and its automatic BCS bid. Last season, the Cardinals dropped back-to-back games in the old Big East -- including a home loss to UConn -- but still got enough help to make it to the Sugar Bowl, where they stunned Florida. Several players talked about repeating that path.

"We've been down this road before," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said.

Yet expectations for this team far exceeded simply fighting for an AAC title, and Louisville might end up wondering what might have been if not for a third-quarter collapse.

Freshman James Quick's one-handed scoop of a fumbled punt attempt and 30-yard touchdown dash put the Cardinals up 28-7 with 7:52 left in the quarter. The sellout homecoming crowd hopped. And then watched in horror as everything unraveled.

UCF's Blake Bortles completed a 32-yard third-down pass on the following drive to set up a Knights' touchdown. A Louisville fumble then led to another quick score. Then, a defensive stop and yet another score. The Knights had erased a three-touchdown deficit in a little more than seven minutes.

"Never, ever, ever give up," Knights head coach George O'Leary said afterward. "That's what we live on, and they knew that was coming. When they started jumping to [Louisville's] music, I knew we were in good shape."

A fourth-quarter field goal put Louisville behind in the second half for the first time this season. That's when Teddy Bridgewater showed his greatness, leading the offense on an 88-yard drive that was capped by Dominique Brown's 15-yard touchdown rumble. Bridgewater could hardly have played better; he completed 20 of his first 23 passes and finished 29-of-38 for 341 yards and two touchdowns.

For most of the season, though, Bridgewater hasn't gotten a lot of help from his running game, and that was the case again Friday. Dominique Brown ran for 54 yards on the Cardinals' touchdown drive to open the second half and later had that 15-yard score. Other than that, though, Louisville managed only 35 rushing yards. And Strong's strategy to rotate backs every series backfired, as he subbed in Senorise Perry after Brown had dominated that first third-quarter possession. Perry's fumble on his own 17 set up a Knights touchdown one play later.

But Strong was more upset with his defense than anything else. Bortles played every bit as well as Bridgewater, throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He had time to scan the field, too, as Louisville failed to record a sack.

"We never got any pressure," Strong said. "You've got to create disruption and pressure. We had our blitzes called, we just didn't execute."

The defense saved the day last week in a slugfest against Rutgers but couldn't hold onto a 35-31 lead with three minutes to go. Bortles spearheaded a 75-yard march that ended on his game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey with 23 seconds left. Bortles faced no pressure on the throw, and Godfrey was wide open.

Preston Brown said Louisville played its base Cover-2 on that drive, hoping to force UCF into short passes and perhaps create a turnover. Instead, the Knights took what was there, all the way down the field.

"We changed our scheme a little bit, and we missed a lot of shots," Louisville safety Hakeem Smith said. "Pursuit was key, and we missed a lot of tackles."

Strong has tried to block out all the criticism surrounding the Cardinals' schedule this season and has repeatedly told his team that they are the best in the nation. He said that will continue to be the message going forward. Louisville only plays two more teams with winning records (Houston and Cincinnati) and should still finish with a sparkling record. Bridgewater insisted the team would move on and get ready for South Florida next week.

"You can't live in misery," he said. "You can't live in a loss. One loss doesn't determine the whole season."

There wasn't much else a team leader like Bridgewater could say on this night. Mauldin had already summed up the feeling of Cardinals fans everywhere.

Q&A with UCF coach George O'Leary

March, 13, 2013
UCF would appear to be the newcomer most ready to make its mark in the Big East. The Knights start spring practice Wednesday, and we recently caught up with their coach, George O'Leary.

A lot going for you guys right now between the conference switch, facilities and whatnot. How would you characterize the mood around the place heading into spring ball?

George O'Leary: I think the real football fans, the schedule just came out, they're excited about the schedule and the competitiveness of the schedule, and I think they're looking forward to it -- national ESPN games. And I think that the schedule fell right in a lot of areas for us, and we have a great nonconference schedule with South Carolina at home and Penn State away, so I think the nonconference schedule, with the addition of the competitiveness of the conference schedule, I think it's probably the most attractive schedule we've had since I've been here.

What do you think of the USF-UCF game being played on Black Friday?

GO: I think that's a grab. I've been saying that since we stopped playing them, that that should be a natural game every Thanksgiving weekend, because unless you're playing a rival-type game -- Alabama-Auburn, Georgia-Georgia Tech -- it's a tough weekend because kids go home. So I think it's a win-win for both schools, whether it's at our place or their place. So basically it's a nice little corridor game, and I think that's something that now we're in the same conference, I think it's a great game. And whether the game's played at night or daytime, I think it'll be a jammed house and I think there will be a lot of lot of interest in that game from both Tampa and Orlando.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUCF coach George O'Leary is looking for more consistency out of quarterback Blake Bortles.
What are you looking for in Blake Bortles' development this spring?

GO: Well I think the next step is basically just to continue improving technique and basically ball delivery. The timing that takes place with quarterbacks and receivers I think is something you're always looking to strive at, and I think he does a good job of taking a bad play and making a good play out of it. Now he has to be a guy that does it not almost all the time but basically every time, that he's got to make a positive play out of situations that don't have -- whether the coverage is bare or some type of blitz -- that he makes a positive play on every play. And that's what the goal is over time, and I think that's the next step I see him taking.

How do you replace a guy like Quincy McDuffie? Anyone you're looking at specifically?

GO: Well, I think Quincy was a big factor in the kicking game, and the funny thing about it, Ranell Hall the year before was the all-conference kick returner. Not Quincy; the guy next to him last year. So Quincy had a great season returning. And I expect Jeff Godfrey to step up into that position this year from a standpoint of athleticism and speed; he's right in the same ballgame there. So that's one I expect to see done. And it's nice when you have players that can just fill the role that other people have played in past years.

We know about Storm Johnson. Who else is going to see time there?

GO: Well, right now Cedric Thompson's been here -- he's a 6-1, 225-pound back right now, that's why we have two scholarship running backs that have played -- they can play one-back, two-back because they can protect. Then there's three other kids that I think the jury's still out on just with that. Plus we signed three running backs, too, with this class. So I think one of those running backs coming in is going to have to help us be a third-back type of guy.

You guys have traditionally been one of the most physical, best defensive teams in Conference USA. Do you feel that might give you guys more of an advantage over some of the other Conference USA teams joining the Big East?

GO: Well, we've always tried to be stingy on defense, but I think the big thing is that we've got a bunch of kids back, but we also have a bunch of young kids I think I've been very pleased with when I watch them on the show team, and some of the second-teamers at the same time. I think we have more potential playmakers coming up through the ranks. I think that's what you look at on defense: to be sound in your fundamentals but also have the ability to make plays. I think that's where the emphasis will be in the spring as far as, need to get those kids on the field in some capacity. It may mean a position change, but it's something I want to keep all the playmakers with where we have them, where they can make plays on the field and not necessarily be a backup because they're sitting behind some guy that started last year.

Do you think you have everything in place now to be able to win the Big East title in Year 1?

GO: I think our only goal is to win the conference championship. That's the only goal, and I'm sure it'll be the same goal next year again. Every game you've got to bring your A-game, but every game's a new adventure. We have one goal: to win the conference championship, because I think it gets you where you have to get to as far as the end of the season, and it won't change this year whether it's Conference USA or the Big East or whatever we're going to call it now -- I don't know what we're going to call it. But our goal is to basically win the conference and do as well as we can within the conference.

Weekend rewind: Non-AQs

October, 24, 2011
Time to take a look back at Week 8 for the non-AQs:

Quarterbacks rule. In case you missed it, three quarterbacks had pretty awesome days on Saturday. Dominique Davis of East Carolina completed 26 straight passes. Kellen Moore of Boise State tied the NCAA record for career wins with 45. Case Keenum of Houston became the NCAA career leader for total offense, with the NCAA career passing mark and NCAA career touchdown passing mark in his sights. You can read more about their days here.

[+] EnlargeDominique Davis
AP Photo/Gail BurtonDominique Davis misfired on only five of his 45 pass attempts in East Carolina's win over Navy.
Southern Miss streaking. The Golden Eagles are off to their best start since 2000 after an impressive 27-3 win over SMU. They are ranked No. 25 in the coaches' poll, their first ranking since 2004, and have won five straight. Austin Davis has been impressive but so has the defense, which has made big-time improvements this season and has been a major reason this team is now the favorite to win the East Division in Conference USA. SMU came into the game with its high-powered passing offense, but Southern Miss totally shut down the Mustangs, who had season lows for points and passing yards (173). Southern Miss had two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. After it plays UTEP (4-3) Saturday, Southern Miss does not have a team left on the schedule with a winning record, making it conceivable the Golden Eagles could win out. Who would they face in the C-USA title game? The West is still wide open between Houston (7-0, 3-0), Tulsa (4-3, 3-0) and SMU (5-2, 3-1), but the No. 17 Cougars would have to be the favorite if they keep rolling. They get Rice this Thursday, but close the season with back-to-back games against the Mustangs at home, then at Tulsa on Nov. 26.

Bowl bound: Southern Miss and Houston are two of five non-AQs already bowl eligible (Boise State, ULL, BYU).

Next up on deck, with games this weekend:

Arkansas State (5-2) vs. North Texas
Toledo (5-3) vs. Northern Illinois (Nov. 1)
Ball State (5-3) at Western Michigan
Northern Illinois (5-3) at Toledo (Nov. 1)
Temple (5-3) vs. Ohio (Nov. 2)
Ohio (5-3) vs. Temple (Nov. 2)
TCU (5-2) vs. BYU (Arlington, Friday)
SMU (5-2) at Tulsa
* Eastern Michigan is 5-3 but the Golden Eagles need to get to seven wins because they have two wins over FCS opponents.

Disappointments: This has been a popular question during my weekly chats: Which team(s) have been the biggest disappointment. There are three on my list today: Fresno State, UCF and Colorado State. The Bulldogs had WAC nemesis Boise State out of the way this season, the perfect opportunity to win a league championship before moving on to the Mountain West. Instead, they have sputtered to a 3-5 start and just lost to Nevada. Fresno State needs to win three games to become bowl eligible. It should be able to get there, but nothing is a given with the improved play of Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State and San Jose State. Meanwhile, there were those who thought Colorado State had everything it needed to get back to a bowl game, with a young quarterback in Pete Thomas and 14 starters returning. But injuries have completed decimated this team, and the Rams are 3-4 and are going to need to pull an upset or two to get to six wins with UNLV, San Diego State, TCU, Air Force and Wyoming left.

Perhaps most disappointing of all, though, has been UCF. Here you have a program coming off the first Top 25 season in school history and a win over Georgia in the bowl game. Many thought that would give this program much-needed momentum and a building block for the future. Instead, the Knights dropped to 3-4 and 1-2 in conference last week after a loss to previously winless UAB, losing to a team that played its backup quarterback and backup running back. Starting quarterback Jeff Godfrey was benched in favor of Blake Bortles, who nearly led the Knights to a win. Now UCF might have a quarterback controversy on its hands, as coach George O'Leary has declined to say who would start Saturday against Memphis. The Knights have some tough games left and are going to need help to make it back to the C-USA title game.

The heartbreak: You have got to feel for Navy, one of the most snake-bitten teams in college football. Navy has lost four games this year by a total of eight points. The Midshipmen, Utah State and Indiana are the only three teams in the country to lose four games by eight points or fewer. The heartbreak continued Saturday in a 38-35 loss to East Carolina. The Midshipmen hung tough after losing starting quarterback Kriss Proctor (elbow) and had a chance to win in the closing minute. An apparent touchdown pass from Trey Miller to Matt Aiken was ruled incomplete, and then Navy missed yet another field goal. Aiken appeared to cross the plane after catching the ball at the 2, but the ball came loose as he hit the ground. Replay officials ruled Aiken did not maintain control as the reason for the ruling of an incomplete pass. Navy dropped to 2-5 and is in danger of breaking its eight-year bowl streak.

Helmet stickers

Mike Ball, RB, Nevada. Ball had a career-high 198 yards rushing and a touchdown on 26 carries in a 45-38 win over Fresno State. He had rushes of 35 and 41 yards, the two longest runs by any Nevada player this year.

Byron Hout, LB, Boise State. Had a career-high 18 tackles in a 37-26 win over Air Force. His tackle total is the most by a Broncos player since Korey Hall had 15 against New Mexico State in 2006.

Javonti Greene, RB, Eastern Michigan. Caught a 50-yard pass from Alex Gillett in the first quarter and scored on a 50-yard run midway through the fourth quarter for both touchdowns in a 14-10 victory over Western Michigan.

Bobby McCain, DB, Memphis. McCain had a 79-yard interception for a touchdown in a 33-17 win over Tulane. The interception gave the Tigers the lead for good in their first conference win since beating UTEP 35-20 Oct. 10, 2009.

Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky. Rainey ran for 206 yards and a career-high three touchdowns as the Hilltoppers won their first home game since 2008 with a 42-23 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. Rainey moved into fourth place on the WKU career rushing list with his performance -- the second 200-yard rushing game of his career.

Luster off BYU-UCF game

September, 23, 2011
The good feelings and optimism about Year 1 as an independent have turned to concern and consternation for BYU following a disastrous loss to Utah last week.

The Cougars (1-2) have managed 13 points in their last six quarters. They have committed nine turnovers in the last two games - a whopping seven in a 54-10 defeat to their bitter rivals. They turn their attention to UCF on Friday night -- another team that is coming in off a disappointing loss. The Knights, ranked for the first time last season, fell to FIU last week thanks in part to two costly fumbles that the Panthers turned into points.

So the luster is a bit off what should have been a high-quality matchup of two top non-AQ programs. It is hard to imagine another program needing a win as badly as the Cougars, who are in danger of seeing their season spiral out of control.

"If we don’t respond, it can set us back," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "If we are able to respond and finish with a strong season, and with how many wins, certainly increases your chances. That is something I have to acknowledge as we prepare for UCF. The more wins we can get our first year of independence the better."

BYU is going through some of the same struggles it did at the beginning of last season, when it failed to generate much on offense. Mendenhall made a change at offensive coordinator, but that has not really helped. The running game has stalled. The offensive line is playing poorly. Jake Heaps is not doing a good enough job making plays or protecting the football. BYU could very well be worse offensively than it was at this point a season ago.

Of the change to Brandon Doman as coordinator, Mendenhall said: "The results haven’t shown yet. The day-to-day function of the organization and the way the players have responded, the way they are being treated and being coached, I am very comfortable with and at some point that is going to show on game day. It is certainly taking longer than the fans would like but I am confident it is going to happen. I like the decision and the results will be forthcoming."

Meanwhile, BYU cornerback Corby Eason lit up the UCF message board earlier this week when he said this about the Knights and their quarterback, Jeff Godfrey: "They have a great quarterback, like, it's the staple of their offense. If we stop the quarterback, like, they have no offense. He's a great player. He can run the ball and he can pass the ball. We just have to stop him. Once we stop him, I don't believe nobody else can beat us."

UCF actually has a solid running game and depth at the position. But Godfrey had a costly fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the FIU game. The Knights' defense has played well, too, and ranks No. 3 in the nation in scoring defense. That should make it an even more daunting challenge for the BYU offense to get back on track.

Final: UCF 30, Boston College 3

September, 10, 2011
The Eagle has landed. Face first.

Boston College had more turnovers (2) than third-down conversions (1).

BC was outgained by 281 total yards.

And UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey only threw five incomplete passes.

This isn't an offensive problem, or a defensive problem. It's a team problem. And right now, Boston College simply isn't very good. The Eagles are off to an 0-2 start, and while it's still early, the reality of the situation is that their bowl chances have already taken a big hit. This is supposed to be the easy part of the schedule. Virginia Tech, Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami ... that's the second half of the season.

Boston College has a reputation for being underrated. This might be a first -- so far they're falling below expectations.


May, 18, 2011
I have been taking a look at potential BCS busters among Conference USA teams since yesterday and am just about ready to wrap up my look at the top teams in the league. Up next is UCF, an up-and-coming team that made it into the Top 25 last season for the first time in school history. UCF has plenty of ingredients for success -- new stadium, nice facilities and a location in one of the top recruiting hotbeds in the nation. But until last season, the Knights were as inconsistent as you can get -- up one season and down the next. Will UCF be able to build on a school-record 11-win season in 2011 and potentially get into a BCS game?

Why they have a shot: The Knights have put together solid recruiting classes for the past several years, so the talent level is there to potentially become the next Boise State or TCU. Quarterback Jeff Godfrey played extremely well as a true freshman, and the Knights are loaded in the backfield with Brynn Harvey returning to join Ronnie Weaver and Latavius Murray. The schedule features two tough nonconference games, against Boston College and BYU, but no ranked teams on the schedule. BC and BYU made bowl games last season, but neither was overly impressive. No question UCF is going to be one of the favorites to win its Conference USA division once again.

Why they won't make it: There are major holes to fill on the defense, which has been the strongest part of this team. Linebacker depth is shaky and leaders have to emerge to replace Bruce Miller and Derek Hallman. They also need somebody to step up at receiver to help Godfrey out. Unlike last season, most of the toughest conference games are on the road -- at Southern Miss, East Carolina and SMU. The Knights also have to play Tulsa, but at least that game is at home. As for the nonconference schedule, BYU is expected to be much better this season, and FIU is no longer a laughingstock. Only one AQ team is on the schedule, but UCF is 3-45 against teams from automatic qualifying conferences since it moved up to FBS in 1996.

Previously profiled



Southern Miss


UCF spring wrap

May, 10, 2011
2010 overall record: 11-3

2010 conference record: 7-1, conference champs

Returning starters

Offense: 7, defense 4, punter/kicker 2

Top returners

QB Jeff Godfrey, CB Kemal Ishmael, RB Ronnie Weaver

Key losses

DE Bruce Miller, LB Derrick Hallman, OL Jah Reid

2010 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: Weaver (186 carries, 890 yards, 11 TDs)*

Passing: Godfrey (159-of-238 for 2,159 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs)*

Receiving: Watters (47 catches, 651 yards, 2 TDs)

Tackles: Ishmael* (93)

Sacks: Miller, Darius Nall (8.5 each)

Interceptions: Reggie Weams (five)

Spring Answers

1. Brynn Harvey is back. Harvey looked like his old self in the spring, returning after a knee injury cost him all of 2010. His addition gives UCF a loaded backfield with Weaver and Latavius Murray also returning, giving the Knights plenty of options.

2. Troy Davis is a player. Davis was impressive in the spring, with five sacks in the spring game, and should help fill the big shoes of the departed Bruce Miller, who left as the school-record holder in sacks. Davis, a rising junior, had 5.5 sacks last season and a big one at the end of the Georgia game, so he has experience. He showed he is more than capable of starting.

3. Godfrey showed improvement. After an outstanding freshman season, Godfrey showed again in the spring why he is the future of the program. He looked poised, and more polished in leading the offense and will only get better as time goes on.

Fall Questions

1. Who will emerge as a playmaker at receiver? O’Leary has often said he wants Quincy McDuffie to take it to the next level so the Knights can utilize his vaunted speed. Well now is his chance with Brian Watters, Kamar Aiken and Jamar Newsome gone. Aside from McDuffie, A.J. Guyton will also be counted on as a key contributor.

2. Which linebacker will step up? Three starters are gone, making this a position that could feature a true freshman in Leilon Willingham making some plays. Two players who did well in the spring were not even at their positions at this time last year. Jonathan Davis is a converted running back and Ray Shipman played basketball at Florida before deciding to give football a try.

3. Leadership. UCF lost a great deal of senior leadership with the graduation of players like Miller, Hallman and Reid, who helped lay the foundation for a Top-25 season and first-ever bowl win. Which players will step up and take on that role in 2011?

Lunchtime Links

February, 8, 2011
Order up! Lunchtime links are on the way ...

Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick plans to fine-tune the football team's schedule in the coming years with the addition of FCS opponents. Also, a series with Navy could be on the horizon.

TCU added another to its recruiting class.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi says Jeff Godfrey will be the starting quarterback at UCF until he graduates, no matter how many four-star quarterbacks come to the school.

Air Force hires a new running backs coach.

Oceanic Time Warner cable is moving ahead with plans to launch an all University of Hawaii channel on its statewide system.

Troy beat writer Drew Champlin takes a crack at the 2011 Trojans depth chart.

Temple hired a defensive line coach.

Former Western Michigan center Robbie Krutilla died on Saturday. The cause of death was pending a toxicology report. He was 26.

Q&A: UCF coach George O'Leary

January, 14, 2011
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?

Instant Analysis: UCF 10, Georgia 6

December, 31, 2010
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.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: UCF 3 keys

December, 30, 2010
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.
UCF will be making its fourth bowl appearance but has yet to win one. The Knights face a tough test against Georgia on Friday in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Both teams feature freshman quarterbacks, so you have to figure the defensive game plans will be somewhat aggressive. UCF may have more wins, but there are several matchup problems that Georgia will try to use to its advantage. First, a quick preview of the game.

WHO TO WATCH: UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey. As a true freshman out of Miami, he led the Knights to a Conference USA championship and tied the school record for most wins in a season with 10. He is No. 8 in the country in passing efficiency, just ahead of Georgia redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. He can also run the ball, too, and already has the school record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season. Much was expected of him when he came into UCF, and it felt as if it was only a matter of time before he replaced Rob Calabrese as the starter. It was, and Godfrey has more than lived up to those high expectations.

WHAT TO WATCH: UCF’s focus. The Knights have tons of motivation going into this game. They have a chance to set the school record with 11 wins, but more importantly, they realize they need to win a bowl game and beat a team from an automatic qualifying conference to gain the respect they want. This senior class made it a vow to come in and put this program on the map. UCF has taken steps this season, with the first Top 25 ranking in school history and another conference championship. But the Knights want to be mentioned in the same breath as Florida, Florida State and Miami, and they want to improve their shot at getting an invite to the Big East. Beating up on C-USA opponents but falling on the big stage is not going to move them into the state's elite.

WHY WATCH: Two of the best freshman quarterbacks in the country are going to take center stage in Murray and Godfrey. These two are poised to lead their teams in the next several years, so it is a good chance to see what they have to offer. Plus, this is an all-important game for the non-AQs -- can they take down a team from the mighty SEC?

PREDICTION: Georgia 24, UCF 20. The Bulldogs may be missing several players in this game, but they should be able to take advantage of mismatches in the secondary with A.J. Green.

Liberty Bowl keys

December, 30, 2010
Here are three keys for Georgia on Friday in its AutoZone Liberty Bowl matchup with UCF:

1. Finish drives: Georgia got itself into trouble earlier this season by doing things to kill drives, whether it was turning the ball over in the red zone, committing silly penalties or simply not converting on third down. The Bulldogs were much better at finishing drives with touchdowns during the second half of the season, and part of that had to do with getting A.J. Green back in the lineup. They will need to continue that offensive efficiency against the Knights and not settle for field goals when they get close.

2. Block Bruce Miller: The Bulldogs were tied for fourth in the SEC this season in sacks allowed (22) and generally did a good job of protecting redshirt freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. But in Miller, they will face one of the more productive pass-rushers in the country. The two-time Conference USA Player of the Year has 34 career sacks and is a big reason the Knights were 12th nationally in scoring defense this season, allowing just 18 points per game.

3. Make UCF one-dimensional: The Knights were balanced on offense this season, which took some of the pressure off of true freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey. The Bulldogs would like to put it all on Godfrey’s shoulders in this game, which entails shutting down UCF’s running game and giving the Knights no choice but to have to throw the football on just about every down.

Liberty Bowl: Georgia (6-6) vs. UCF (10-3)

December, 30, 2010
Georgia is making its 14th consecutive bowl appearance, and in doing so, will try and avoid its first losing season since 1996 when it takes on Conference USA champion UCF on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Here’s a quick preview of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: This will likely be the last time we see Georgia junior receiver A.J. Green on a collegiate field. He’s rated as one of the top handful of prospects in the upcoming NFL draft and will almost certainly come out. The four-game suspension to start this season was unfortunate, but he came back with a strong finish, displaying his vast talents every step of the way. In single coverage, he’s been virtually unstoppable and has that combination of speed, size and great leaping ability that makes him one of the better receivers to come through the SEC in the past decade. Despite missing the first four games, Green still tied for the league lead with nine touchdown catches, and you can bet that quarterback Aaron Murray will look for him often against the Knights.

WHAT TO WATCH: Georgia’s defense put up respectable numbers overall in Todd Grantham’s first year on the job, but the Bulldogs weren’t especially good against the run. In fact, they ended the season by giving up 726 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in their last two games. Slowing down the Knights starts with slowing down their running game. They averaged 192.5 rushing yards per game this season, and freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey is a big part of that running attack with 546 yards and nine touchdowns. The Bulldogs would like to shut down UCF’s running game from the outset and put Godfrey in a position where he has to throw it 35-plus times.

WHY WATCH: It’s a battle of two of the most promising freshman quarterbacks in the country. Murray, a redshirt freshman, has accounted for 28 touchdowns this season (24 passing and four rushing) and can break the Georgia record with one more in the bowl game. With 2,851 passing yards, Murray also has a chance to become just the second SEC freshman ever to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. Godfrey became the first true freshman quarterback in FBS history to guide his team to a win in a conference championship game. He’s passed for 2,042 yards and 13 touchdowns and ranks sixth nationally in completion percentage (68.4 percent) and eighth nationally in pass efficiency rating (165.3).

PREDICTION: Georgia 37, UCF 24. The Bulldogs ended the season by scoring 30 points or more in their last seven games. Even though they won’t have backup running back Caleb King, they’re pretty much at full strength offensively, and Murray is playing like a veteran. UCF will hang in there for a while and score some points, but Georgia’s offensive firepower will prove to be too much.