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Donnybrook in Ireland gives UCF fighting chance

Report: Knights to play Penn State overseas in ’14

Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Updated: Saturday, July 13, 2013 12:07

George O'Leary

Nick Russett / Central Florida Future

George O'Leary fields questions after a game against FIU. O'Leary worked with Penn State coach Tom O'Brien at Georgia Tech.

It’s almost too good to be true — UCF and Penn State facing off in Ireland, in front of a huge international crowd, proudly displayed in a prime television slot.

Maybe now we know the reason behind George O’Leary’s classic grin.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s coming true. According to the Orlando Sentinel, UCF and Penn State have finalized an agreement to play in Croke Park in Dublin in 2014.

The same Croke Park that houses more than 82,000 fans.

If things go as planned, the game could be in line to kick off the college football season, much like when Notre Dame played Navy in 2012.

If that happens, this will be the biggest spotlight UCF has ever been in.

O’Brien vs. O’Leary in the Emerald Isle; it would be the perfect headline maker.

Games like this don’t just go to any ole team. You won’t see East Carolina scheduling a game in Mexico, USF making its international debut in Shanghai or Rice heading to Argentina as ambassadors of the game.

Penn State is an international brand. UCF isn’t. An international, season-opening game against the aforementioned international brand could change things.

Sure, the exotic location for the game probably stems from Penn State’s disdain for playing in Bright House Networks Stadium. It’s not purely a result of UCF’s national reputation.

But the benefits from this game stem far beyond anything UCF could gain from a home game against Penn State.

Fans don’t want to hear that. Some will be disappointed that they won’t get to see Penn State play in Orlando next year.

Those fans are a bit too short-sighted to see the long-term implications of a neutral site game of such magnitude.

UCF is still scheduled to play six home games. They’ll get their precious money’s worth. But those fans should be thanking UCF administrators because, if all goes to plan, their future season tickets will be worth that much more.

Exposure and reputation are priceless. This kind of game fosters national and international exposure and creates a positive reputation.

Thousands of kids across the country will turn on the TV to see UCF play in Ireland and think, “I’m going to go there someday.”

Hopefully, one or two of those kids grows up to be good at football.

UCF is constantly fighting an uphill battle when it comes to building its fan base. Right now, the program struggles to sell out games despite boasting a huge student body and alumni base.

But forget about the students, forget about the alumni.

The true secret to building a sustainable fan base is in the casual fan.

The casual fan is the guy or gal that didn’t go to college, or attends Valencia or Rollins. Maybe the guy that went to Harvard but finds it hard to root for a team that plays in the Ivy League.

Orlando is full of those fans. The ones who pick out a team to stand behind at an early age and stick with that team no matter where they go to school or end up living.

Right now, the casual fan in Central Florida typically doesn’t care about UCF. If you need proof, look at the local media coverage.

The quickest way to luring the casual fan is plain and simple — win a championship.

Going to four Conference USA Championship Games won’t cut it, making it into a top recruit’s top three won’t cut it and joining the American Athletic Conference won’t cut it.

Winning is the only answer. And with the current state of college football and UCF’s current situation, it doesn’t look like a national championship is on the horizon.

So what can UCF do?

Well, playing on ESPN helps and playing in Ireland against Penn State is about as close as UCF is going to get.

Will playing in one game sway thousands of people from the city of Orlando to throw out their Gators garb and opt for a UCF shirt?

Probably not.

But playing in a big-time game on an international stage will help create the perception that UCF is a big-time program. And that can’t hurt.

Too good to be true? Maybe not.

UCF could be placing itself on one of college football’s biggest stages in just more than a year’s time.

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