UCF will make postseason debut in Hawaii Bowl

Updated: December 9, 2005, 4:06 PM ET
Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's not often that fans will wait outside the locker room to cheer after a loss.

Then again, it's not often you go from 0-11 to 8-4 in just one season and earn your school's first-ever bowl appearance.

This season has been funny that way for Central Florida.

UCF (8-4) formally accepted a bid Sunday to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, where the Golden Knights will meet Nevada (8-3) of the Western Athletic Conference on Dec. 24. It's the first bowl game in UCF's 10-year football history.

"This bowl is an excellent reward for our student-athletes and the coaching staff on a championship season," UCF athletic director Steve Orsini said. "This is a trip of a lifetime for our players."

It's also not a bad consolation prize for a team that lost the Conference USA championship game to Tulsa 44-27 on Saturday.

In coach George O'Leary's second season, the Golden Knights snapped what was the nation's longest Division I-A losing streak at 17 games -- starting a stretch where they won eight of their next nine overall.

"To me, spending Christmas playing football is probably the best gift I can get," center Cedric Gagne-Marcoux said. "If I'm not playing football on Christmas, I'm watching football. My parents are at the table eating dinner and I'm in my room watching the bowl.

"I've never been to one, and I've dreamed about it. That's why I came to college. I wanted to get a chance to play in a bowl."

Not bad for a team that entered the season ranked near the bottom of all 119 Division I-A teams in most preseason magazines, then engineered a stirring turnaround that resulted in a division title in C-USA and lured a school-record 51,978 people to watch them play for their first-ever league championship.

A few thousand fans remained in the stands after Saturday's game ended, chanting "U-C-F! U-C-F!'' And a couple hundred others huddled near the team's locker room, just to applaud and cheer as O'Leary and a couple players made their way into postgame interviews.

"I think that is a heck of a reward for a team that came from where they came from last year," O'Leary said.

Now, his team has a chance to author the final chapter to their comeback story.

"We went 0-11 last year, so we don't even look at stuff like [a loss]," quarterback Steven Moffett said after the Tulsa game. "It's just one loss. Last time we lost to Southern Miss, they killed us, and we came back and won two games after that. So we're going to do the same thing after this one."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press