HONOLULU (AP) -- Central Florida made one long trip to get to the
Hawaii Bowl, and it had nothing to do with the 11-hour flight.
The Golden Knights (8-4) this season ended what was the nation's
longest Division I-A losing streak at 17 games. They played in the
inaugural Conference-USA championship game and are making their
first postseason appearance Saturday when they face Nevada.
"Between the championship game and the Hawaii Bowl, I don't
think I need a Christmas," said defensive end Paul Carrington, who
leads UCF with nine sacks.
A victory will tie the 1940 Stanford team for the
second-biggest, one-season turnaround in NCAA football history. UCF
went 0-11 last year, going 700 days without a win before defeating
Marshall 23-13 in the third game of the year.
"As I continually told them, each and every day, 'As long as
you keep practicing well, good things will happen,' and it did,"
coach George O'Leary said.
O'Leary was ousted as coach of Notre Dame in 2001 after
admitting to falsifying his academic and athletic credentials on
his resume. He is in his second year at UCF and was the C-USA coach
of the year.
"I've been to many bowls in my career," he said. "If you're
not going to play in the national championship, this is the place
The Wolf Pack (8-3) are making their sixth bowl appearance and
the first since the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl. They shared the Western
Athletic Conference title with Boise State after upsetting then No.
16 Fresno State 38-35 in the regular-season finale. It was Nevada's
first WAC title.
Nevada features an explosive attack that's ranked 23rd in the
nation in total offense (433.5 yards a game) and 24th in scoring
(32.8 points). The Wolf Pack are led by B.J. Mitchell, the WAC
offensive player of the year who has rushed for 1,221 yards and 10
touchdowns this season. He is 16th in the nation with 111 rushing
yards a game.
"I just want do what I've been doing all year and a little more
because it is my last hurrah," said Mitchell, who has rushed for
more than 100 yards in six games, including the last three.
The Wolf Pack will be without starting cornerback and co-captain
Kevin Stanley, who was declared academically ineligible and sent
back to Reno on Thursday.
Mitchell said his team is well aware of Central Florida's
"I'm happy for them because I know what it's like to come from
a losing record to a winning record," he said. "But we still got
to do what we've got to do. We're competitors."
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl Preview
SportsNation is perplexed in its attempt to pick a winner in this one. (Vote) If there's one thing the 'Nation feels good about in this one, it's that B.J. Mitchell and Nevada's offense will be tough for UCF to stop, as the Golden Knights make their first-ever bowl appearance.
Nevada's ground attack usually sets up the passing game for Jeff
Rowe, who has thrown for 2,671 yards and 20 TDs. Caleb Spencer is
Rowe's favorite target. Spencer has 56 catches for 770 yards and
seven TDs. Nevada this week has also used the Honolulu native as a
tour guide and hula instructor.
"I told them to hang around the beach, but don't go too deep
(into the water) because a lot of our guys can't swim," Spencer
Coach Chris Ault said it was 38 degrees when his team left Reno,
but the players seemed to have instantly adapted to the nearly
50-degree temperature change.
Ault said Central Florida reminds him a lot of Fresno State's
power offense with a lot of play action.
The Golden Knights are led by freshman Kevin Smith, who rushed
for 976 yards and six touchdowns. Steven Moffett has thrown for
2,624 yards, 19 TDs and six interceptions.
O'Leary insists his team was "not really special."
"I thought they played well together as a team," he said. "I
thought the Marshall game was a turning point where we sort of
buried a lot of the bad things that were happening to us."
O'Leary, who led Georgia Tech to five bowls in seven seasons,
called bowls a reward for the players, their families, coaches and
the fans. During the week, the teams toured Pearl Harbor, attended
a luau, went to a water amusement park and lounged on the beach in
"It took 11 hours to get here and every minute was worth it,"