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UCF, UAB look to take advantage of spotlight game

Central Florida coach George O'Leary will do just about anything to get his team on national television, let alone be the featured game. UAB coach Neil Callaway is the same way.

Now if their teams can only figure out how to make good use of the spotlight.

The Knights and Blazers will meet in the only nationally televised game Wednesday night, an early Conference USA showdown featuring teams coming off disappointing finishes against BCS programs and uncertainty lingering at key positions.

So no reason to wait another Saturday.

"It's the only game in town on TV. I think it's great exposure for the teams playing," O'Leary said. "The schedule screws up the wives big time."

The home team is certainly looking to take advantage of an expanded audience.

The game offers a rare chance for UCF (2-2) to creep out of the shadows of the state's traditional powerhouses — Florida, Florida State and Miami — and highlight its growing facilities. The school even canceled classes that begin after noon to give more students a chance to attend and allow for the crush of fans expected on campus, now home to the country's third-largest student enrollment at more than 53,000.

"It's no excuses," receiver Jamar Newsome said. "Nobody can say, 'I have this to do, I have that to do.'"

Or as linebacker Lawrence Young put it, "All eyes on us."

That hasn't always been a good thing.

Four games into the season and UCF's quarterback situation remains unsettled. Freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey took the reins by Week 3 after junior Rob Calabrese struggled, and now O'Leary is calling a semi-reverse following an ugly last-minute loss at Kansas State.

Godfrey, the career high school passing leader in talent-rich Miami-Dade County who has often been more electrifying with his feet than his arm, is expected to remain the starter. However, O'Leary plans to play both quarterbacks against UAB.

"You see the last game? Of course, you're going to need both," O'Leary said. "I think that's only natural when you have a young freshman quarterback that you give him a chance to get a little blow out there and see what's going on and get his head where it's supposed to be at."

UCF isn't the only one with position controversy.

The Blazers (1-3, 0-1) blew a chance to knock off Tennessee in their last outing, with Josh Zahn missing five consecutive field goals in a 32-29 double overtime loss. Callaway reopened the competition in the last week until deciding to stick with Zahn.

"We're going to take the good and try to learn from it," Callaway said. "And we're going to take the bad and try to move on from it."

UAB gained 544 total yards against Tennessee but might find it tough to repeat that performance.

The Knights lead Conference USA and are in the top 10 in the country in total defense, passing defense and passing efficiency defense. The Blazers are just 1-6 against UCF in seven previous meetings. The lone win came in 2008 when UAB spoiled the Knights' homecoming with a 15-0 win in 2008.

Maybe equally tough will be finding ways to cope with the reworked schedule for a weeknight road game.

"We'll let them sleep in Wednesday, then we'll have breakfast and meetings and all that to break the day up," Callaway said. "Otherwise, it's a long day."

An odd scheduling quark also makes it so the Knights' final eight games are against conference opponents.

So with the Conference USA opener coming against UAB, veteran UCF players called a players-only meeting to make sure the underclassman understood their season isn't over after a heartbreaking defeat at Kansas State and a last-second loss to North Carolina State. O'Leary called the gathering "garbage" and said he is not a fan of player-only meetings.

His players, though, believe it was productive.

"We let the team know that out-of-conference play is over now," receiver A.J. Guyton said. "It's time to go for that conference championship right now."