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O'Leary's optimism is not so wacky after all

By SHARON GINN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 18, 2005

In the "things you thought you'd never see" department, the UCF alumni association is throwing a viewing party for Saturday's game at Rice. The site couldn't be more aptly named: an on-campus establishment called Wackadoo's.

How interesting, since many people thought George O'Leary was a bit wackadoo in July when he wandered into a media gathering for the state's football coaches with a big smile. Winless George talked about how he thought his team had a shot at a bowl game this year, and the audience, to put it kindly, was puzzled.

Fast forward four months and the Golden Knights (7-3, 6-1 Conference USA) have long put their 17-game losing streak behind them. And not only are they practically shoo-ins for their first bowl bid, a victory over Rice would give them the league's East Division title, a spot in the Dec. 3 inaugural championship game and possibly a chance to host it.

"It is on our shoulders to go out and get the job done," O'Leary said. "I think the players understand that. As I tell them, if you practice well you have a chance to play well. That is pretty much what they have done this season. It is amazing that when you are playing well, how many more opportunities you get through turnovers to make things happen."

That's what happened last weekend, when UCF rallied past UAB 27-21. UCF trailed 21-10 in the third quarter, but forced four turnovers in the fourth, getting 14 points off them.

Rice (1-8, 1-5) has struggled this season, but snapped a 14-game losing streak last weekend with a 392-yard rushing effort in a 42-34 win over Tulane. The option the Owls run may present a problem for UCF, which rarely sees that type of offense and doesn't regularly practice much for it.

"You are so involved in stopping the running game that all of a sudden somebody is behind you in the passing game," O'Leary said. "It is going to come down to accountability with the defense this week and how well they fulfill their responsibilities."

KUMBAYA?: A bit of the usual Florida Classic acrimony seems to be missing this year, and for that you can give credit to the coaches.

During that same July media gathering, recently hired Florida A&M coach Rubin Carter startled Bethune-Cookman coach Alvin Wyatt by grabbing him around the neck in a half-hug and chatting him up. The rival coaches have become friendly in recent months, and speak of each other with fondness.

"Coach Carter and I have a great relationship," Wyatt said, indicating that things were not as friendly between he and former FAMU coach Billy Joe. "It's opened up the doors for great camaraderie with these two teams."

While Carter said he likes and respects Wyatt, Saturday's Florida Classic is "really about the players." FAMU receiver Roosevelt Kiser would agree.

A friendlier rivalry "is probably never going to happen, whether (the coaches) want it or not," Kiser said. "(Carter's) just making sure that the coaches know it's nothing personal."

BAD RAP: Miami athletic director Paul Dee apologized on behalf of the university Wednesday, a day after a 2-year-old profanity-laced rap recording made at least in part by student-athletes surfaced on the Internet. reported that the voices of several football players were included in the nine-minute rap, which it said was recorded in a residence hall on campus.

The university and athletic department "disapprove of the content and its references," Dee said in a statement. "To those who may hear this material, we apologize. Any students whose voices can be identified will be subject to appropriate discipline and/or counseling."

The statement came a day after coach Larry Coker - who has worked hard to cultivate his team's image as one that avoids the unwholesome activity of UM teams of the past - said that recruiting top players has gotten easier.

"A perception that was here maybe before was that, "Yeah, Miami wins a lot of football games, but boy, my son is not going there,' " Coker said. "That's not the perception anymore. It's, "Yeah, they win a lot of football games. Boy, I want my son to be a part of that.' "

Information from the Miami Herald was used in the report.

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