Orlando is buzzing - hell, positively e-lectric - about the arrival of Southern Miss for its pivotal conference opener with hometown Central Florida tonight. Check out this giddy blurb that serves, apparently, as the Orlando Sentinel's entire game day coverage.
To expand on the basics for the legions of, say, Big Ten fans, who don't know Southern Mississippi and Central Florida from North Texas and Middle Tennessee, or that the former are way, way better teams, and that this game is a serious one where the C-USA East is concerned, SMQ met with the author of "Southern Miss at UCF - The Game," Sentinel college editor Mike Huguenin, over wild Alaskan cedar plank salmon with chorizo topping to debate the necessity of establishing a sense of place in narrative, the future of psyches among minority groups scarred by past and persistent discriminaiton, and the interchangability of implicitly assigned roles within a society's social strata.
SMQ: Little can be gauged from box scores against South Florida and Florida, even as grisly as the numbers were against the Gators (USM can relate). So, is UCF actually to be feared? Or was 2005 the "lightning in a bottle" year in a general arc of ineptitude?
MH: UCF did not play well against Florida, but still has the vast majority of guys back from the 2005 team that won C-USA. And, no, I don't think UCF was a fluke last season. O'Leary is a solid coach and knows what he wants. Problem this season is his guys are having trouble giving it to him. Offensively, the line has been a disappointment. Mike Walker is an excellent wide receover, Steve Moffett a solid quarterback and Kevin Smith a good tailback. The line was supposed to be the strength of the unit, but it has underachieved. The defense, quite simply, lacks speed, especially at linebacker. All in all, though, this is a team that should contend in C-USA.
SMQ: Are the Knights out for bloodthirsty vengeance as retribution for the six-turnover first half in Hattiesburg in 2005, which enabled USM to set a school record for points in a half despite being (I think) nearly outgained? This was UCF's only conference loss before the championship game last year, and presumably not forgotten.
MH: I don't necessarily think revenge is on their minds. I think the thing UCF is most worried about is simply playing well. They didn't do much in the opener vs. I-AA Villanova, were smoked at Florida and played well at times vs. USF. O'Leary wants more consistency across the board.
SMQ: Why should the Knights be confident? What aspect of Southern Miss is ripe for exploitation?
MH: I think UCF thinks it can run on Southern Miss. If Golden Knights struggle in that aspect, I don't think they can win. Walker is a big-timer and should have success regardless.
Do not toy with Mr. Walker.
SMQ: What about the Eagles worries UCF? Is Damion Fletcher being given his due as a vision of true freshman terror?
MH: Overall speed on defense is worrisome to UCF from BOTH angles. UCF has to be worried they can stop Fletcher with its lack of speed on defense. And UCF has to be worried that Southern Miss' defensive speed is going to negate some of the things the Golden Knights want to do in the passing game.
SMQ: Other than its proximity to DisneyWorld and stuff, what is the very basic minimum Southern Miss fans - or football fans in general - should know about Central Florida as a program/university/destination?
MH: As a program, UCF clearly is a step below the state's "Big Three" and probably below USF, if last week's game is an indication. An on-campus stadium, which opens next season when Texas comes to town, will help in that regard. Recruiting had fallen off under the previous regime, and O'Leary and his staff generally get good marks in that category. As a university, UCF easily could become the biggest in the state in the next decade IF the University of Florida is serious about putting a cap on its enrollment; right now, UCF is second in enrollment. As a destination, Orlando area offers a lot of ameneties -- from weather to proximity to beach.
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Hattiesburg offers proximity to Katrina-busted pine tree stumps. Go geography! Southern Miss-Central Florida kicks off tonight at 6:30 p.m. Central on ESPN2, which, SMQ knows, conflicts with the apocalyptic, Palladino-less season premiere of Gilmore Girls over which you've been sweating for months, but such are the sacrifices of dedicated fandom. Plus the sports bar will probably turn the channel during timeouts, right?