This year's schedule features early nonconference games at home against Boston College and on the road at Brigham Young. Those dates will give sophomore quarterback Jeff Godfrey greater exposure, and winning both could thrust the entire program into the national spotlight.
O'Leary is beginning his eighth season at UCF. He likes the heightened expectations that come with winning the Knight's second conference title in four years and finishing with a bowl victory for the first time.
"I'd rather be where we're sitting now than where we were when we got here," O'Leary, who went 0-11 in his first season with the Knights in 2004, said Friday during the team's preseason media day.
"I think expectation levels are higher. I think the team has to react to that. I know the coaches do," the coach said, adding he'd rather have fans excited about the prospect of another conference title and perhaps even a shot at a BCS bowl berth, rather than entering the season "hoping and wishing that things happen right."
Godfrey was one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks as a freshman, throwing for 2,159 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 566 yards and 10 TDs after beginning the season as a reserve. The Knights also return three running backs who ran for more than 600 yards last season, including 1,000-yard rusher Brynn Harvey.
The tailbacks have a nose for the end zone, too, with Harvey scoring 14 TDs rushing and Ronnie Weaver and Latavius Murray each scoring 11 TDs.
While the Knights lost some key players from one of Conference USA's top defenses, O'Leary is confident he has capable replacements. With Godfrey a year older, the coach thinks the offense will be better, too.
The coach said one topic he discussed with players when the team convened to begin preparation for the Sept. 3 season opener against Charleston Southern was the need to focus on what's ahead - not the impressive way the Knights finished last season by winning nine of their last 10 games.
"We need to move from that victory in the Liberty Bowl. I told them it's a new year, a new season and you're going to be judged by what's done this year, not last year," O'Leary said. "But I do think it helps from a confidence level, just that if they do things right, good things can happen."