ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — For most of its time on college football's top level, UCF has been content to wear the "sleeping giant" label that Knights coach George O'Leary gave the program when he arrived in 2004.
A decade and their first 12-win season later, the Knights enter 2014 no longer as the little team that could. And that's just fine by them.
"Oh, yeah, in the conference we are the target and everyone wants to beat UCF now," senior offensive lineman Torrian Wilson said. "That's the price we pay right now for being the conference champion, for going to the Fiesta Bowl and for just doing great things last year.
"We wouldn't want it any other way."
The Knights 12-1 finish in 2013 was their best in school history, and their third 10-win season in the last four years. It signaled their arrival on the national stage, but also led to personnel casualties in the offseason with starting quarterback Blake Bortles and running Storm Johnson departing for the NFL.
Overall nine starters on defense and six on offense returned this season. Though losing Bortles was clearly a big hit for a unit that expected to have more time to develop his younger understudies.
O'Leary held off on naming a new starter in the spring, before ending early preseason speculation by naming redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo as the starter for the Aug. 30 opener in Ireland against Penn State. It was a bold move by O'Leary, opting for DiNovo over sophomores Justin Holman and sophomore transfer Nick Patti.
Though O'Leary is quick to point out that their success this season will depend on more than that one position.
"I feel comfortable with our football team," he said. "We'll be solid. We have more depth than we've had in the past as far as at all the positions. It's just a matter of getting a couple of positions straightened out and getting the guy in there that can make things happen for us and just maintain the game, not necessarily have to win the game at quarterback."
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