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UCF Knights

The UCF Knights football team represents The University of Central Florida (UCF) in the sport of American football. The Knights compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the American Athletic Conference (The American).[2] Their current head coach is George O'Leary, who has led the team since 2004. The Knights play their home games at the 45,000 seat Bright House Networks Stadium, which is located on UCF's main campus in Orlando, Florida, United States.

The University of Central Florida first fielded a varsity football team in the fall of 1979 as a Division III program, and subsequently completed their ascension to Division I–A, now known as the Division I Football Subdivision (FBS), in 1996. As a Division I–AA program, the Knights made the 1990 and 1993 playoffs, and were picked as the preseason No. 1 team to start the 1994 season.

As of the completion of the 2013 regular season, UCF has 215 official victories, has won four division championships (2005, 2007, 2010, 2012), and three conference championships (2007, 2010, 2013). The Knights have made six postseason appearances since joining FBS, in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013, including one BCS bowl game. One Consensus All-American has played at UCF, Kevin Smith in 2007, and the school has produced two Heisman Trophy candidates, Daunte Culpepper (QB) in 1998 and Kevin Smith (RB) in 2007. The program has also produced a long-line of NFL players. Playing in fourteen Super Bowls and including four pro-bowlers, the list most notably includes Brandon Marshall, Bruce Miller, Matt Prater, Asante Samuel, Mike Sims-Walker, and Josh Sitton. The Knights main rivals are the East Carolina Pirates, Marshall Thundering Herd, and the South Florida Bulls.

George O'Leary era (2004–present)

Following the disappointing 2003 season, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George O'Leary was named UCF's new head coach in 2004. This was a controversial hire on several fronts because O'Leary had previously been named head coach at Notre Dame, but was relieved of his duties five days into his tenure after inconsistencies were found on his resume. The difficult coaching transition for 2004, the Knights' final year in the Mid-American Conference, saw the team hit rock bottom, going 0–11.

In 2005, UCF started their first season as a member of Conference USA. Not expected to improve much over 2004, they surprisingly won their first conference game against Marshall, 23–13, ending the school's 17-game losing streak, then the nation's longest streak. UCF fans celebrated by storming the field and tearing down the goal posts. Students came back to the campus and celebrated further by jumping into UCF's Reflection Pond (a practice normally reserved for Spirit Splash). UCF then went on to win eight out of the remaining nine games on their schedule, finishing 7–1 in C-USA games, winning the East Division and hosting the first ever C-USA Championship game, which they lost, 44-27, to Tulsa. Shortly thereafter, UCF was invited to play in their first ever bowl game, the Hawaii Bowl, losing to Nevada 49–48 in overtime due to a missed PAT that would have tied the game. In 2005 O'Leary was chosen by for the coach of the year award and received votes for the larger Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year award. In May 2006, UCF extended O'Leary's contract for 10 years and increased his pay to $1 million plus incentives per year after he engineered the fourth-best turnaround in college football history.

After an anemic 2006 which saw the Golden Knights go a mere 4–8, the team rebranded in 2007 in preparation for its move to its new on-campus venue, Bright House Networks Stadium. They dropped the "Golden" from their name, becoming the "UCF Knights". Fortunes seemed to have changed as the Knights moved into new facilities. After defeating a BCS school for just the second time ever, the NC State Wolfpack, they inaugurated their new stadium by hosting and losing to the No. 6 ranked Texas Longhorns 35-32. The Knights lost to regional rival South Florida 64–12 in Tampa, but went on to have a 5–1 regular season at home and won the C-USA East again, hosting the Championship game against Tulsa once more. UCF defeated Tulsa in a near-reversal of the 2005 Conference USA Championship Game 44-25, thereby gaining UCF's first ever Conference Championship title and a berth in the 2007 Liberty Bowl. Following UCF's victory, the Knights received 35 votes in the AP Poll, but did not reach the top 25, ranking 27th. The Knights lost the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN; 10-3 to Mississippi State. The Knights went on to finish the year with its first 10 win season in the FBS. In 2007, Kevin Smith rushed for 2,567 yards, placing him 2nd on the NCAA's all-time single season rushing list behind Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders. Despite this, he was not selected even as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy or the Doak Walker Award. He also was the only running back in the 2007 season to rush for more than 100 yards against the Texas Longhorns. He was a fan favorite, especially with student section at Brighthouse Networks Stadium. Smith originally stated that he would return for his senior season at UCF, however, he later changed his mind, announcing on January 6, 2008 that he would declare for the NFL Draft. He went with the first pick in the third round, to the Detroit Lions.