The undefeated UCF Knights get the spotlight Saturday for their first time ever, as they host (host!) No. 12 South Carolina on national television (ABC) for a noon kick-off. In case you're new to the Knights, let's get you a little more familiar with UCF.
1. The school is big. Really, really big. UCF is second nationally only to Arizona State in total enrollment, as the two schools each host more than 60,000 students.
2. The city of Orlando? Not quite so big. Under a quarter of a million people live in Orlando proper, with the greater metro area clocking in at a population just above 2 million. That number pales in comparison to Orlando's yearly visitors, estimated at 51 million people annually. The city is sometimes known as the "Theme Park Capital of the World" due to the presence of Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and others.
3. Orlando was originally named Jernigan, but was changed in honor of settler Orlando Reeves, who, legend has it, was killed by Native Americans. Records have it differently, however, saying Reeves never existed. Does Orlando exist?
4. The school was first founded in 1968 as Florida Technological University on a space grant -- the hope was the school would provide engineers and other personnel for the United States space program.
5. The football program began in 1979 in Division III, and has gone through a litany of outrageous mascots over the years. The first student handbook included the school's first unofficial mascot, Citronaut (all images from UCF):
A few years later they announced their first official mascot, called Knights of Pegasus.
Followed up by this nightmare, Sir Wins-a-lot.
They even used Puff the Dragon, donated by Disney.
UCF's current mascot is Knightro, seen here with Glycerin. Knightro is the one without a face, and it is hard to decide which is more terrifying. In the 1980s, Burt Reynolds gave the school a purebred black Arabian horse for Knightro to ride.
Here's the current iteration, via Wikipedia.
And here he is murdering a pirate:
6. After three years in Division III, UCF moved up to Division II in 1982, and to I-AA in 1990. They become one of the most dominant teams in the division, completing their move to the top division of college football in 1996. After six years as an independent, they joined the MAC in 2002, moved to Conference USA in 2005, and joined the American Athletic Conference in 2013. They won two C-USA championships and four division titles.
7. Cheryl Hines, Daniel Tosh, and the people behind The Blair Witch Project all went to the school, but UCF's most notable sporting alumnus is former NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who was the team's quarterback during the move from I-AA to I-A. He set about 30 school records in his time with the Knights, and had a phenomenal senior campaign in 1998 in which he completed nearly 75% of throws and recorded 40 total touchdowns.
8. This year's team could be their most dominant since Culpepper's day. The Knights began the year with blowout wins over Akron (38-7) and FIU (38-0), and followed that up with an impressive road win against Penn State (34-31).
10. NFL Draft prospect Bortles has thrown for seven touchdowns and run for one more through three games, completing 71.4% of his passes and averaging 11.7 yards per attempt. He was named to a number of watch lists before the season (including Davey O'Brien and Maxwell), and became UCF's first-ever quarterback to be named to a FBS all-conference team last season, when his 33 total touchdowns earned him a second-team All-C-USA berth.
11. Johnson is averaging 5.6 yards per rush and has scored seven total touchdowns on the year. It is the junior's second year in the UCF program, as the former four-star recruit transferred from Miami after one year.
12. But the real story is the defense, which has allowed under 300 total yards per game and has given up an astounding 12.7 points per game. Much of that can be attributed to how well George O'Leary's squad gets into the backfield -- 14 different players have combined for 20 tackles for a loss this season -- and South Carolina's offense will have a lot to contend with on Saturday.