Just days before opening camp, the UCF football team got some bad news from the NCAA.
Despite being one of the favorites to win Conference USA, the Knights are banned from postseason play because of a recruiting scandal involving the football and basketball teams that cost athletic director Keith Tribble his job.
UCF is appealing the NCAA’s decision, however, and might just be able to play in a bowl game this season after all.
Time will tell.
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So now, the Knights — who will join the Big East next year — are focused on their season opener at Akron (which was Thursday night).
If UCF’s appeal isn’t heard before the end of the season, the team could accept a bowl invitation — if one is offered.
“Coach will talk about it here and again, but we really don’t pay much attention to it,” said running back Storm Johnson, who sat out last season after transferring from Miami.
“The sanctions are what they are,” coach George O’Leary said. “The one we felt that needed to be addressed was the bowl ban. Administration is involved with the NCAA. Hopefully our appeal goes through and the kids will have a chance. I will always fight for our football team. If we deserve a postseason game, we should play in one.”
UCF enters the season with high expectations despite a disappointing 2011 campaign in which a late three-game losing streak to Tulsa, Southern Miss and East Carolina led to a 5-7 season.
The Knights dealt with off-field issues once the season ended, from the NCAA investigation to quarterback Jeff Godfrey leaving the team — only to ask O’Leary to come back.
Godfrey, who started the past two seasons, lost his job to Blake Bortles. After leaving the team and saying he was going to transfer, the former Miami Central star said he didn’t want to leave as UCF felt “like home.”
Godfrey, who has started 24 of his 26 UCF games at quarterback, is now a junior receiver. He says the transition has been good despite missing spring practice.
One of O’Leary’s conditions for Godfrey to return to the team was an apology to his teammates. Godfrey says he cleared the air with everyone and all is well.
“Being a receiver is kind of nice. I’m loving the change,” said Godfrey, who tossed 14 touchdowns and set the school record for rushing yards by a quarterback in an exciting freshman season. Godfrey struggled late last season, however, and watched Bortles’ role increase.
“This is like a whole fresh start for me. It was tough for me, but I have put my problems behind me. I’m coming in here with a whole new attitude. I’m going to work harder than I did last year. Last year was tough. You’re going to have those years sometime. This is the place I want to be. I made a boneheaded decision trying to leave, but now I’m back. I came to my senses and came back home.”
Godfrey isn’t the first UCF starting quarterback to change positions — and is the second on this team.
Rob Calabrese started at quarterback his first three seasons but moved to receiver as a senior. After being redshirted last season because of injury, Calabrese knows what Godfrey is going through.
Johnson is another UCF player getting a fresh start after leaving the Hurricanes following Al Golden’s first spring camp in 2011.
Johnson, whose Miami highlight was a 71-yard touchdown run in what was Randy Shannon’s final game as UM’s head coach, rushed for 119 yards on nine carries as a freshman with the Canes in 2010. Johnson says he feels right at home with the Knights and is pushing for the starting job in the offensive backfield.
“Sitting out was tough. That was the first year since I was 6 that I didn’t play,” said Johnson, now a third-year sophomore.
“Taking off did help me adjust, helped my character. I learned a lot. I’m thankful to have the year with those guys. I’ve been working hard with them. I’m very happy to be here. I needed to be somewhere else and picked UCF.”
The Knights are pretty deep at running back with 2011 MVP Latavius Murray looking to start against the Zips.
When the Knights head to Columbus for a date against Ohio State on Sept. 8, Johnson will likely be sought after by his team.
In the shoe
Johnson, after all, knows what traveling to the famed “Horseshoe” is like, having been part of Miami’s traveling party for the Hurricanes’ 36-24 loss there in 2010.
UCF has a few signature wins in its history, from beating Georgia in 2010 to a 30-3 thrashing of Boston College last season.
Pulling off a win against Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, however, would bring some much-needed positive attention to a UCF program that could use some after this past summer.
“That is going to be a fun, exciting trip,” Johnson said. “That place was crazy. We’ll be ready. We’re not looking too far ahead. We’re looking at the opener, not Ohio State. This is going to be a fun ride.”