Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The state of Florida boasts seven schools
with current ties to the Football Bowl Subdivision, but nearly all of the
notoriety and media buzz goes to only three.
If you're lucky enough to be the Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles and
Miami Hurricanes, then you rule the roost in the Sunshine State, at least with
respect to glory on the gridiron. That bias leaves UCF, USF, FIU and Florida
Atlantic scrambling for any scraps that fall by the wayside, which isn't a
whole lot when you consider the Gators (3), 'Noles (2) and 'Canes (5) have won
a combined 10 national titles, all of which have come in the last 30 years,
and compete in two of the top conferences in the country (ACC, SEC).
UCF and USF have had limited success in their respective leagues over the
years, the Knights most recently in Conference USA and the Bulls in the Big
East, but both are set to embark on a new adventure as they set up shop in the
brand new American Athletic Conference. Splintered off from the Big East, the
American, which officially begins on July 1, will feature 10 teams this
season, 11 in 2014, and 12 in 2015.
UCF has been a consistent force in C-USA in the nine seasons George O'Leary
has been in charge, winning a pair of league titles and going to numerous bowl
games. The 2012 campaign was another successful one for the Knights as they
posted a 10-4 record, won their fourth East Division crown, and crushed Ball
State in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl (38-17). One of only 19 teams slated to
play all FBS teams this fall, UCF was deemed ineligible for postseason play in
2013-14 by the NCAA, but recently had that ban lifted after a successful
UCF Vice President and Director of Athletics Todd Stansbury remarked after the
announcement came down, "With the appeal process behind us, we're ready to
move forward. Our first season in the American Athletic Conference, including
the opportunity to play in a bowl game, is right around the corner. It's an
exciting time for the Knights."
With a little more than a decade of FBS experience under their belts, the
Bulls of USF are making the transition to The American like each of the
remaining Big East (football) teams, but will do so with a new coach calling
the shots. Willie Taggart has been entrusted with ushering in this new era in
USF's short history, as he comes over from Western Kentucky to replace the
fired Skip Holtz. The Bulls went to six straight bowl games from 2005-10, but
have been locked out of the postseason the last two years after going a
combined 8-16 overall and winning only two Big East bouts.
Taggart has instilled a certain toughness that appeared to be lacking in Tampa
the last couple of years, and his players have responded favorably.
"They have to do something. They have to go out, impress us and show that they
can take coaching in the classroom and out on the football field," Taggart
said. "I told them, 'We're not going to give you anything. No one out there is
going to give us anything.' Anything we get we have to earn."
He continued, "They've been working like they're fed up, and we want them to
be fed up."
For the FIU Panthers and FAU Owls, they too are preparing for new chapters in
their brief history, as both teams make the move from the Sun Belt Conference
where they had been members since 2005, to Conference USA.
FIU also has a new coach in former Illinois and San Jose State head man Ron
Turner, and he will try to restore some lost momentum after the Panthers
endured a disappointing 3-9 season in 2012. The team had enjoyed its best
stretch the previous two years under Mario Cristobal, posting consecutive
winning seasons (7-6 in 2010, 8-5 in 2011), the former earning the team a
share of the Sun Belt title, and both resulting in appearances in the Little
Caesars and Beef 'O' Brady's Bowls, respectively -- all of which were program
Regarded as one of the top offensive minds in the game, with his specialty
being developing quarterbacks, Turner is thrilled to have the opportunity to
lead FIU to even loftier heights moving forward.
"FIU is a young program, but it is a program that can be very successful.
There is great enthusiasm with the upcoming move to Conference USA," Turner
said at his introductory news conference.
At Florida Atlantic, only recently have the Owls experienced anything in terms
of administrative upheaval. Howard Shnellenberger, who led Miami to the 1983
National Championship, was the only head coach FAU ever had, leading the
school to a pair of bowl games (2007, 2008 -- both wins), until announcing
his retirement in 2011. Carl Pelini, older brother of Nebraska head man Bo
Pelini, was given his first head coaching job and he guided the Owls to a 3-9
record in 2012, which was an improvement from the dismal 1-11 mark the team
logged the year before.
Pelini's plan for success involves the recruiting of top-notch players, not
only in terms of talent but also character, and he believes he is on the right
"I'm proud of the effort our coaching staff put into this class," said Pelini.
"It was our priority to bring in quality young men both on and off the field
-- young men who will lead this program in the direction which we began last
year about this time. This class excels academically and athletically, and
will be ready for the challenges of Conference USA."
Stealing the spotlight from the big three in Florida simply isn't going to
happen, but the remaining FBS schools there can certainly make names for
themselves if they achieve the kind of success each is capable of in their
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