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UCF returns to bowl action against Arkansas State

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The University of Central Florida Knights look to start another string of bowl appearances when they face the Arkansas State Red Wolves in Saturday’s AutoNation Cure Bowl. They are not traveling far as the game will take place in Orlando’s Camping World Stadium.

Players are always happy to be in a bowl game, but normally look forward to a trip away from home. For a team that went 0-12 the year before, the Knights are more than happy to stay home.

“It’s just a blessing to have the opportunity to be here, said linebacker Shaquem Griffin. “The Cure Bowl is showing us so much love right now and it’s good to have that feeling back. The scenery is awesome. The resort is so big we got lost trying to get (to the press conference).

First-year UCF Coach Scott Frost and the coaching staff are thrilled about the quick turnaround and the opportunity to go to a bowl game based in Orlando.

“I think it’s exciting for our university to get back to a bowl game so fast,” Frost said. “It’s great that it’s hear in Orlando. We hope last year was just a blip on the radar for UCF. I think we’re headed in the right direction, there is no doubt about that.”

Arkansas State (7-5) is glad to be in Orlando as well. Having endured struggles of their own, they are the perfect opponent for UCF.

Everything’s first class and the kids are having a blast,” said Red Wolves Coach Blake Anderson. “It’s been a long road to get here and we struggled to get to this point to be able to win a conference championship and become bowl eligible.”

The Knights rightfully feel they belong in bowl games. The results over the past decade back that up.

Beginning with the 2005 season, former coach George O’Leary took the Knights to seven bowls over 10 seasons. The pinnacle of the program’s success came on New Year’s Day 2014 when they upset Big 12 Champion Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, 52-42. UCF, led by quarterback Blake Bortles, was a 17-point underdog to the Bears.

After an appearance in the St. Petersburg Bowl following the 2014 season, everything came crashing down. Following last year’s winless season, O’Leary was gone and Frost was brought in.

Not many would guess the Knights (6-6) would become bowl-eligible in Frost’s first season, but they made significant improvements in all areas, especially on defense. UCF has some things in common with Saturday’s opponent.

“I think our football team and their football team are similar,” Frost said at Thursday’s bowl press conference. “Taking nothing away from the rest of their team, I think the strength of their team is their defense. Their defense and our defense are, I think, the two most improved in the country coming off last year.”

Kickoff is 5:30 p.m. Central Florida has been installed as a six-point favorite.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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