UCF enters the game currently as 36-point underdogs, and will play a Texas team that’s peaking, with blowout victories over Missouri and Oklahoma State over the past two weeks.
“I don't let it get to me and our teammates don't let it get to us,” Knights wide receiver A.J. Guyton said of being a huge underdog. “They put our pants on one leg at a time just like us. Every man can be beat. We're just going to go up there and try to play our ballgame. If we come with our 'A' game, it's going to be a tough game.”
For the Knights, it’s much more than playing a national power. Texas head coach Mack Brown has his team ultra-focused, as they were one play away from playing for a national championship just a year ago. Texas returns much of the same team.
"Texas has all the pieces in place to make a run at the national championship,” Knights head coach George O’Leary said in his Tuesday press conference. “They are stacked on defense. They have great quickness. On offense they have a quarterback that makes good decisions and they have play makers that catch the ball and run with it. Plus they always have a good kicking game. I didn't see a man running free with the exception of the man in the end zone. I think they are a lot better compared to two years ago. Texas is always traditionally a very good football team. They have great skill and the athletes have great speed."
Speed seems to be what concerns the Knights most.
“They have a lot of speed on defense as far as me watching film, and I watch them on TV and everything,” A.J. Guyton said. “They're very fast. We just have to be very direct with our play calling and if we can be physical with them we have a chance.”
Even more than the overwhelming speed will be the atmosphere that the young Knights will be walking into. There will be better than 101,000 screaming fans wearing burnt orange, a situation that could be overwhelming to the best of teams.
“I think that’s going to be a big challenge, especially at the beginning of the game,” Knights quarterback Brett Hodges said. “I think once things start going, they’re going to realize that it’s really not as bad as it seems to be. It’s really something that we have to get through their head and it’s something that you have to pay attention to. You need to focus more, with a crowd like that it’s going to be hard to hear me. As long as everybody is on the same page and we’re focusing, we’ll be alright.”
Aside from the fantastic athletes and the raucous crowd will be star power. Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy is currently the Heisman Trophy favorite after finishing as the runner-up a year ago. Everyone in America with ESPN knows that he likes to go fishing with roommate and close friend, speedy wideout Jordan Shipley. Sergio Kendall is another first-round pick and there will be plenty of jerseys in the crowd that represent the three.
Still, Knights quarterback Brett Hodges is looking forward to playing against the best.
“It’s awesome,” said the Central Florida native and lifelong UCF fan. “Not a lot of people can say they’re going to play against the number two team in the country, at Texas too. That’s just an opportunity that not a lot of people get, even some of the best teams in the country. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it and the rest of the team is looking forward to it.”
In all actuality, a victory in this game by UCF would be one of the biggest upsets, perhaps the biggest, in the history of college football and one of the greatest in the history of sports. Win or lose, this game doesn’t really affect any of the Knights goals.
“We still have our goals as far as a conference championship and getting into a bowl game,” Knights defensive end Bruce Miller said.
The competitor in Miller would not let him concede anything, even to the “Big, Bad, Longhorns.”
“As a competitor and an athlete the acceptable outcome is a win,” the C-USA first-team defensive selection said. “That's the only thing that we're going to accept and we're going to go in and play this game just like it's any other game. They have a good football team, and we've showed that we have a good football team when we play like it.”
The Knights are playing with the proverbial house’s money as a 36-point underdog. A good performance by UCF could really give them momentum for the stretch run. A poor outcome really means nothing as far as conference standings, and Texas is expected to pound the Knights at home. Really, there’s no pressure.