ORLANDO, Fla. — Throughout his tenure UCF coach George O’Leary has never backed off the proclamation he made the day he was hired when he dubbed the football program “a sleeping giant.”
Ten years later, the 15th-ranked Knights are preparing to play in the school’s first BCS bowl game on Jan. 1 against No. 6 Baylor.
It’s been whirlwind season for sure, but is a spot that even O’Leary acknowledged Monday is happening a year earlier than he envisioned for his relatively young team.
“When we showed up 10 years ago (the program) was a low point because there weren’t any players here that could really win football games,” he said. “So we did what we should do with a coach taking over a program, we built a foundation. And then each year you put some furniture in the building. That’s what you gotta get done.
“The big thing is we got better each year and we’ve had our ups and downs, but I think the consistency of the program, and the culture of the program is in place right now to move forward and get better each and every year.”
The dominoes that fell into place this season were many.
Most Knights’ fans will probably most remember the ones that took place on the field, such as the midseason upset of Louisville or the eight-game win streak to close out the regular. But the biggest actually was set late last year when UCF officials decided to appeal a one-year postseason ban that was part of sanctions levied in July 2012 for major recruiting violations in football and basketball.
UCF accepted a one-year postseason ban in basketball, along with a $50,000 fine, five years’ probation and reduction of basketball
But school President John Hitt and athletic director Todd Stansbury said they believed the football ban was too severe since none of the players UCF the NCAA said had recruited illegally played football for the Knights.