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Defining season for UCF comes to climax in Hawaii


New Orleans Bowl [Preview]
Tuesday, December 20
Southern Miss 31, Arkansas State 19
Cajun Stadium, Lafayette, LA
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

GMAC Bowl [Preview]
Wednesday, December 21
Toledo 45, Texas-El Paso 13
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, AL
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

Fort Worth Bowl [Preview]
Friday, December 23
Kansas 42, Houston 13
Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, TX
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8 PM; TV: ESPN

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl [Preview]
Saturday, December 24
Nevada 49, Central Florida 48 (OT)
Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, HI
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 8:30 PM; TV: ESPN

Motor City Bowl [Preview]
Monday, December 26
Memphis 38, Akron 31
Ford Field, Detroit, MI
Payout Per Team: $750,000
Time: 4 PM; TV: ESPN

AutoZone Liberty Bowl [Preview]
Saturday, December 31
Tulsa 31, Fresno State 24
Liberty Bowl Stadium, Memphis, TN
Payout Per Team: $1,500,000
Time: 1 PM; TV: ESPN

View schedule and final results of all bowl games involving C-USA teams...


AP Sports Writer

HONOLULU — Central Florida made one long trip to get to the Hawaii Bowl, and it had nothing to do with the 11-hour flight.

This season the Golden Knights (8-4) ended what was the nation's longest Division I-A losing streak at 17 games. They played in the inaugural Conference USA championship game and are making their first postseason appearance Saturday when they face Nevada.

"Between the championship game and the Hawaii Bowl, I don't think I need a Christmas," said defensive end Paul Carrington, who leads UCF with nine sacks.

A victory will tie the 1940 Stanford team for the second-biggest, one-season turnaround in NCAA football history. UCF went 0-11 last year, going 700 days without a win before defeating Marshall 23-13 in the third game of the year.

"As I continually told them, each and every day, 'As long as you keep practicing well, good things will happen,' and it did," Coach George O'Leary said.

O'Leary was ousted as coach of Notre Dame in 2001 after admitting to falsifying his academic and athletic credentials on his resume. He is in his second year at UCF and was the C-USA coach of the year.

"I've been to many bowls in my career," he said. "If you're not going to play in the national championship, this is the place to be."

The Wolf Pack (8-3) are making their sixth bowl appearance and the first since the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl. They shared the Western Athletic Conference title with Boise State after upsetting then No. 16 Fresno State 38-35 in the regular-season finale. It was Nevada's first WAC title.

Nevada features an explosive attack that's ranked 23rd in the nation in total offense (433.5 yards a game) and 24th in scoring (32.8 points). The Wolf Pack are led by B.J. Mitchell, the WAC offensive player of the year who has rushed for 1,221 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He is 16th in the nation with 111 rushing yards a game.

"I just want do what I've been doing all year and a little more because it is my last hurrah," said Mitchell, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in six games, including the last three.

The Wolf Pack will be without starting cornerback and co-captain Kevin Stanley, who was declared academically ineligible and sent back to Reno on Thursday.

Mitchell said his team is well aware of Central Florida's turnaround.

"I'm happy for them because I know what it's like to come from a losing record to a winning record," he said. "But we still got to do what we've got to do. We're competitors."

Nevada's ground attack usually sets up the passing game for Jeff Rowe, who has thrown for 2,671 yards and 20 TDs. Caleb Spencer is Rowe's favorite target. Spencer has 56 catches for 770 yards and seven TDs. Nevada this week has also used the Honolulu native as a tour guide and hula instructor.

"I told them to hang around the beach, but don't go too deep (into the water) because a lot of our guys can't swim," Spencer said.

Coach Chris Ault said it was 38 degrees when his team left Reno, but the players seemed to have instantly adapted to the nearly 50-degree temperature change.

Ault said Central Florida reminds him a lot of Fresno State's power offense with a lot of play action.

The Golden Knights are led by freshman Kevin Smith, who rushed for 976 yards and six touchdowns. Steven Moffett has thrown for 2,624 yards, 19 TDs and six interceptions.

O'Leary insists his team was "not really special."

"I thought they played well together as a team," he said. "I thought the Marshall game was a turning point where we sort of buried a lot of the bad things that were happening to us."

O'Leary, who led Georgia Tech to five bowls in seven seasons, called bowls a reward for the players, their families, coaches and the fans. During the week, the teams toured Pearl Harbor, attended a luau, went to a water amusement park and lounged on the beach in Waikiki.

"It took 11 hours to get here and every minute was worth it," O'Leary said.

Notes: Without the hometown Hawaii Warriors in the bowl for the first time in four years, ticket sales were very low. General admission tickets were selling for $8 and bowl officials were giving free tickets to military personnel and their families. Nevada had sold only about 100 tickets and UCF about 380 as of Friday.

02/23/07 10:43 AM

©2005 The Associated Press. All rights rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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