AS THE LAST piece of ticker tape drifts slowly to the ground, preparations for the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights’ visit to Ireland for the Croke Park Classic in August are already well underway.
And far from reducing the number of Knights fans planning on travelling to Dublin for the game, legendary UCF play-by-play announcer Marc Daniels — who has been calling games involving the Knights for 19 years — believes their shock Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor will actually swell their numbers.
“There were a number of people who’d already booked their trip to Ireland before UCF found out they were playing in the Fiesta Bowl and, even if they hadn’t booked the trip, there were a lot of people who had committed their funds to Ireland.
“You’ll also have fans who say ‘wow, what a great season, I don’t want to miss that game in Ireland’ and so I think UCF will be well represented. There are so many fans excited about the trip, the game and the chance to visit Ireland.”
While Daniels doesn’t have any Irish ancestry himself, UCF’s head coach does and the Beat of Sports presenter believes George O’Leary will be very keen to give his team a sense of his ancestral home.
“This is a business trip, in the sense that it’s game week and it’s a game UCF will want to win to start the season 1-0 but Coach O’Leary will want his team to experience Ireland and it’s such a unique opportunity for the players, he’ll want them to make the most of it.”
Despite Notre Dame reaching the BCS National Championship Game after starting their season in Dublin last year, Daniels doesn’t believe UCF can begin looking that far ahead just yet.
“Expectations have certainly increased after the year UCF has had but it’s important to take it one game at a time and Coach O’Leary has always said the goal must be to win the Conference Championship and if you win that, good things will happen.
“UCF have a very challenging schedule next season and so, one game at a time, one step at a time and the ability in any sport to remain among the elite is to be consistent year in and year out so I think the Knights will just look forward to the game in Ireland against Penn State and hopefully come out of that 1-0.”
One player who won’t be there next season though is UCF quarterback Blake Bortles who recently declared for the NFL Draft and Daniels believes Bortles — touted as a possible number one overall pick — has the ability to become the greatest player to ever come out of the University of Central Florida.
Not bad when you consider Brandon Marshall is an alumni of the school.
“I think Blake’s going to have a very successful career in the National Football League. His game translates well to the NFL, probably better than any other quarterback in this draft.
“From a size standpoint, from a physical standpoint and his understanding of the game; I think he’s got the best chance of succeeding immediately in the NFL and his make up gives him a chance of having a long career.”
Bortles of course, was responsible for not only leading his team to the Fiesta Bowl title, but also played a key role in what Daniels describes as the best play of the college football season when his heave into the endzone was caught, one-handed, by a diving JJ Worton.
“It’s one of those plays that will go down in the history of UCF and, in the future, when you say ‘The Catch’, UCF fans will know you mean JJ Worton’s one-handed grab against Temple because of the way the play unfolded, the situation in the game — the Knights were trailing Temple by seven points with 76 seconds remaining — and the coverage it got.
“In a season of wonderful memories, that play just stands out.”
Luckily for Irish fans, Worton will travel to Dublin for the Cork Park Classic when UCF take on Penn State to open their season on August 30 next year.
If he can produce a catch that’s half as spectacular, it could be worth the admission price alone.