By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
By Jan. 24, Central Florida could be one of 35 bowl champions crowned at the end of the 2012 college football season.
There are several people who just might have a problem with that. Of course, Knights coach George O’Leary is not one of them.
In July, the NCAA handed down several reprimands to the university’s football and, moreso, the men’s basketball programs. The sanctions came about as result of the NCAA’s investigation into recruiting improprieties involving a Chicago-based booster.
Among the punishments was a 2012 postseason ban for football and the same for men’s basketball in 2012-13. However, the university announced immediately that it would appeal the football ban, because none of the players recruited improperly wound up on the team.
UCF followed through on that appeal, and the hearing date has been set for Jan. 24, 2013.
That means the Knights can officially compete for the Conference USA championship and play in a bowl game.
Which, naturally, is music to O’Leary’s ears.
“I was told last week that the hearing would be Jan. 24, which is what I thought it would be,” the veteran coach said Tuesday. “I think it’s great news for our team, great news for our fan base, and we would’ve never had appealed that unless we thought we had a great opportunity to win that certain sanction. When I read what’s going on with some other schools, it’s not being consistent as far as what happened.”
O’Leary’s players were informed in the preseason that there would be an appeal.
“Well, I told them that in August so there was nothing new I could tell them (about the hearing date),” he said. “They were just reassured that there’s nothing in our way except ourselves, and I think that’s what I said to them — ‘Hey, right now everything that’s on the table is there and we just got to keep going after the things we need to go after.’”
The Knights (5-2, 3-0) lead the East Division race going into the league’s marquee game Saturday at Marshall (3-4, 2-1). The game will kick off at 8 p.m. and be televised on CBS Sports Network.
Marshall and UCF have developed a rivalry starting with their time together in the Mid-American Conference and continuing with both moving on to C-USA in 2005. It has been a one-sided rivalry, however — Marshall has lost to the Knights all seven times since they have changed leagues.
O’Leary downplays the feud between the two, but says he respects the atmosphere at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“I always look forward to going up there,” said the coach, who will take his team into the new-look Big East next season. “They have a good fan base, they’re an active crowd. ... I enjoy going up there and competing. This is a conference game. It’s a big game as far as they only have one loss in-conference, so we got to stay one game ahead.
“Again, it’s a big game for us, but every game is a big game. This will be a major, major game up in Huntington as far as Marshall’s attitude with what’s going to take place.”
UCF is a 2 1/2-point favorite.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org