UCF faces South Dakota
The UCF football team is used to playing obscure teams on their opening day. This season’s home kickoff is no different. But they will have one well-known element come opening day: Rob Calabrese will start the game against South Dakota at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Head Coach George O’Leary made that announcement early this week, as he said he’d go with experience for the Knights’ first drive. He also said that freshman phenom Jeff Godfrey will throw in the game. How much and when that will happen remains to be seen.
Both of those announcements are good news for Knights fans. But history is even better.
The odds are already stacked in the Knights’ favor for their home opener. When their first game of the season has been at home, they haven’t lost under O’Leary’s tenure.
Last season they started with a home kickoff against Samford University, going into the final quarter down 24-21. But in a lightning-quick drive, they marched down a short field thanks to a 39-yard Rocky Ross punt return and took the remaining 32 yards to the end zone with ease to win 28-21.
The only problem: Of the four players with their hands on the ball during that winning final possession — Rocky Ross, Brett Hodges, Brynn Harvey, and Jamar Newsome — only Newsome will be available for playing time at this year’s kickoff. The first two have graduated, and Harvey is still recovering from an injury.
At the start of the 2008 season, against South Carolina State, the Knights dominated, handing the Bulldogs a 17-0 blowout. The Bulldogs would go on to a 10-3 record that year.
Now the Knights are staring down another enigma of a football team: South Dakota. The Coyotes went 5-5 last season against lesser-known teams, winning their final game of the 2009 season in a dramatic 50-48 nail-biter over Cal Poly.
But the Coyotes return this season with their backup quarterback calling the shots. Junior Dante Warren threw for only 127 yards all season last year, but at an 80 percent completion rate. Their top receiver last year, Tom Flanagan, who picked up 530 yards, returns. Chris Ganious, who had more than 1,100 all-purpose yards last season, also returns.
For the Knights, their first home game tends to be a good luck charm. They’ve only lost one home opener under O’Leary’s watch — their 2006 35-32 shocker against No. 6-ranked Texas.