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Sunshine State second set hoping to garner more attention
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
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 appeal.
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 firsts.
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 track.
"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 respective leagues.
06/21 11:40:51 ET
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