Commentary: Penn State provides UCF's 1st true test
When the game clock struck zero Friday night at FIU, the Knights knew their season had just begun.
"The Penn State and South Carolina games are the games everybody is going to get excited for because they are big schools in big conferences, but we just have to take care one game at a time," junior quarterback Blake Bortles said.
Through their first two games, the Knights have done essentially what they were supposed to do: blow out a lesser opponent. Whether it was pretty (Akron) or not-as-pretty , the result was as it should have been. In the grand scheme of things, beating Akron and FIU means nothing. What has impressed me the most is that the Knights didn't fall into the trap of being the better team. The players came out and showed up for 120 minutes.
Next week, everything changes when the Knights travel to Happy Valley, to take on Penn State. The Nittany Lions are traditionally a college football powerhouse, but due to circumstances involving the now infamous Jerry Sandusky, are suffering severe penalties from the NCAA.
"Penn State just is Penn State. There is tradition; they have players and even though they may be hurt scholarship-wise, I think there's players there," head coach George O'Leary said.
Penn State also has taken care of business in its first two games of the season. In week one, the Nittany Lions took care of a solid Syracuse team, and in week two, they took Eastern Michigan to the woodshed. What is the big advantage that the Knights have going into their first big game of 2013? The better quarterback. At least for now.
Bortles is arguably the American Athletic Conference's second best quarterback. Penn State features Christian Hackenberg, a true freshman five-star recruit, under center, has given fans a reason to be excited about his future thus far. Through two games, he has looked pretty good, but he isn't on Bortles' level. Next season in Ireland, I might be singing a different tune.
For the first time this season, the Knights will play an opponent that is their equal. They likely will not be favored due to the nature of traveling to Happy Valley, a stadium that has a capacity north of 107,000.
Despite its struggles, Penn State won eight games last season in the tough Big 10 conference. Finally, the Knights will get a true test of how good they really are.
It's been written every season for as long as I can remember that "UCF can't win a big game." It's a fair criticism, don't get me wrong, because it has very few program-defining wins in school history. Penn State is the first chance. The Nittany Lions are the third-best team on the schedule, and beating Penn State would give the Knights all the momentum they would need going into the highly-anticipated matchup with South Carolina.
Something that is often overlooked is that the winner of the American Athletic Conference gets an automatic BCS bid. The Knights are very much in the chase to win the conference, and every game provides a chance to boost their all-important resume.
With a few chances for a signature win, the Knights' best chance is next Saturday against Penn State.
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