Each Monday night during the football season, the blog will look ahead to South Carolina’s next opponent. This week, it’s Central Florida.
At its brim, there are only 45,301 fans inside Bright House Networks Stadium. When South Carolina enters Central Florida’s home confines Saturday, nothing about it will be confused for Georgia’s Sanford Stadium.
But don’t take Saturday’s atmosphere lightly.
UCF announced Monday – well in advance of gameday – that Bright House Networks Stadium is sold out for the first time in two years. The Knights will be playing their first game on network television, a noon kickoff on ABC. They’ll try to win only their second game against a ranked opponent in school history. In almost every conceivable way, history is on the line.
For UCF, this is the biggest home game of the 2013 season. (UCF also has matchups against Penn State and No. 7 Louisville, but both are on the road.) For USC, it’s just another week. Therein lays potential danger for the Gamecocks.
Who: No. 12 South Carolina (2-1, 1-1 SEC East) at Central Florida (3-0)
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Bright House Networks Stadium (45,301) | Orlando, Fla.
Radio: Gamecocks Sports Network (WWIK-FM, 98.9 in Charleston) | Affiliates
Line: South Carolina -7 (opened at -7.5)
What to know about Central Florida: The Knights aren’t scared. Despite being a touchdown underdog in their home stadium, that much is clear. Like USC, UCF enters Saturday’s game after two weeks to prepare. The last time it was on the field, UCF beat Penn State in Happy Valley. It led most of the way before winning 34-31. The Knights are getting votes in national polls and would undoubtedly crack the top 25 with a win Saturday.
Coach George O’Leary has made the most of his life line following an embarrassing 2001 resignation after five days as Notre Dame’s head coach. O’Leary has a 63-55 record at UCF. He was named Conference USA Coach of the Year three times, most recently in 2010. But, in his 10th season, this is the first time his program has been 3-0.
When last they met: South Carolina 24, Central Florida 15, on Sept. 1, 2005. The Steve Spurrier Era – and the 2005 season – began with a 24-15 win against Central Florida inside Williams-Brice Stadium. The Gamecocks jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and were ahead 24-3 after three quarters before UCF finished with the game’s final 12 points. It took one game for USC to show good quarterback play under the Head Ball Coach. Blake Mitchell started his sophomore season completing 18-of-23 passes for 330 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
All-time series: South Carolina leads 3-0.
Which Gamecock is crowing loudest: Jadeveon Clowney. Why? UCF left tackle Torrian Wilson is a good player – an All-Conference USA Second Team selection last fall – but a rung below your usual SEC left tackle. Furthermore, Wilson missed the Penn State game with a knee injury. O’Leary told reporters Wilson got a scope on his medial cruciate ligament (MCL). Now he’s going to line up across the fiercest pass rusher in college football? Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Clowney to have a breakout game.
Who’s keeping South Carolina coaches up at night: Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gets all the Heisman Trophy hype in the newly configured American Athletic Conference, but don’t sleep on Blake Bortles. Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward certainly won’t. UCF’s signal caller is second in the AAC with a 71.4 completion percentage this fall, behind only Bridgewater’s 71.8 percent. Bortles has also passed for 816 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception.
Quotable: South Carolina safety Kadetrix Marcus on whether playing in a smaller stadium changes his team’s intensity – “It shouldn’t. At all. We know we have to come, like every team. Every team can beat us, and that’s what we should know. Every team wants to beat us. We have a target on us, and we all should go in there strong – strong-minded. No matter what the environment is, we go in there and play football like we’re supposed to.”