UCF surprised a lot of people last season but George O'Leary wasn't one of them.
"I don't think the 12-1 record just occurred," he said. "It's been something that's been going on."
But he's not looking back, only forward to doing more.
"I think last year we had a terrific season," O'Leary said of UCF's first BCS bowl bid. "I think it was great for the conference, great for UCF as far as national recognition. But that's over. It's a new year. As I told the team, new team, new leadership, new chemistry. I think all those things have to fall in place for us to be successful."
The Knights took an approach when O'Leary arrived a decade ago to play the best they could get on the schedule. That's paid off. UCF opens the season on Aug. 30 against Penn State in Dublin, Ireland. It's yet another chance to make a statement nationally — trying to beat the Lions for the second straight season after a 34-31 win last year on the road.
"I think the key, I've always said this, you have to play a very competitive non-conference schedule and win those games," O'Leary said. "I think that's what needs to be done. That's why I've always believed through all my years of coaching, as I told my wife, I stay a couple more years, they'll put my name on a ship. But I think the big thing is that basically we're going to be competitive, we're going to go out and play the best teams we can play, then go from there. ... We do open up in Ireland, over in Dublin. How that game came about, it was O'Leary, O'Brien. When Billy was at Penn State, he left to take the Houston Texans job. Billy thought he would take his Penn State team on a trip, with the probation they were on. But the game is going to be great."
With recognition and being willing to play anyone, anywhere brings problems, though.
"I think the key for us this year is when you look at the season, we don't play on eight Saturdays," O'Leary said. "Either we were picked up with ESPN on Thursday night or Friday night. There's eight Saturdays where we're sitting home or practicing. So it's a different type of schedule, something you have to adjust to.
"But, again, with the number of players back, the number of experienced players back, the winning culture, we'll be a very solid team and be very competitive with everybody we play. That's really it. We have a bunch of good players back. I don't get into who. I tell you, the game of football has changed. Football's success has always been a 'we.' It's changed more and more to a 'me' deal. A lot of these players coming out of high school, the exposure they're getting. We built the team on two things: accountability and responsibility. That's pretty much the way we do the program. The players know what they have to get done. As much as we're proud of the success on the athletic field, we're number five in graduation rate in the country. If you looked at the top 10 last year, at the season-ending rankings, you rate them academically, we're number one of the top 10 teams in the country."
Another challenge is that no one is taking UCF lightly any more.
"You know, I'm a Yankees fan, all right? No one ever sneaks up on them. That's who they are," O'Leary said. "I've been at the other end, too. I know what it is to be the one sneaking up. But I'd much rather be where I'm at. At least I know where the target is. What I do with the season is this, is I take the 12 games and I make them 12 one-game seasons. Every weekend is a season. Once the season is over, we can go on to the next season. We have one goal on the team, period, and that's to win the conference championship. Every year same goal. I think when you win the conference championship, that leads to individual honors. I'm not concerned about individual honors, I'm concerned about team. I tell our team that all the time. We're a 'we' team, all right? The 'me' part of it comes when we win.
"Again, we understand where we're at. Again, I think it's hard to get to last year's season, but I think it's hard to stay there. That's the contest we have this year."