ORLANDO — A few moments after morning practice Tuesday, then again in an air conditioned news conference, UCF finally answered the questions.
Many had dodged the search for answers last season in the darkness of a Raymond James Stadium tunnel after a 64-12 loss at then-No. 5 USF.
The Knights (1-0) had made a big fuss over being on par with the Bulls (1-0). They poked and prodded them about extending a four-game series, and in the end were gored all over the field.
"That was a very tough ride," Knights defensive back Johnell Neal said of going back to Orlando. "We got back and (Knights coach George) O'Leary brought everyone into a team meeting. He told us our season could go in any direction."
UCF gathered itself to win seven of its final eight games including the Conference USA title game, 44-25 over Tulsa.
But the USF loss all but ended rivalry talk. The Bulls were still launching footballs into the air like one of those high-energy drink commercials. Only these passes landed in the hands of USF receivers trotting across the goal line again and again en route to USF's third win against the Knights.
"They were up 50-12 and in the fourth quarter they were still throwing 60-yard touchdown passes," Knights defensive back Jason Venson said. "You feel disrespected by that."
Actually, the Bulls led 43-10 after three quarters before backups threw three more touchdowns. Some UCF players dismissed it as nothing more than playing the game. Others blamed the Knights themselves.
"As far as running the score up, I'm not their coach," Knights defensive back Sha'Reff Rashad said. "I wasn't on their sideline so I don't know what their coach was telling them. I know we were on the field going as hard as we could and I'm sure they were just doing the same."
All-American running back Kevin Smith was held to a season-low 55 yards. It was the only time he rushed for fewer than 100 yards, and one of two times he did not score a touchdown.
Many wonder how UCF can compete when it still seeks consistency after losing Smith and quarterback Kyle Israel.
The Knights will start Michael Greco, backed up by redshirt freshman Joe Weatherford, a Land O'Lakes graduate.
Smith, who bolted a year early for the NFL, was replaced by four freshmen running backs with the bulk of carries expected to go to Ronnie Weaver and Latavius Murray.
But are they equipped to tangle with No. 17 USF? The Knights struggled offensively in Saturday's 17-0 win against South Carolina State. UCF had 228 rushing yards, but just 90 passing yards and no touchdown passes.
The Knights have been reminded about last year's USF debacle with clips of the game intertwined in scout films. There's hope that can be a motivator as well as playing at home in Bright House Networks Stadium. Of course being reminded about the Bulls, and this being the Knights' last shot, certainly doesn't hurt.
"They were just trying to disrespect us," Venson said. "When you're up like that, you have that right. They earned the right to get up like that and they earned the right to disrespect us. It's our job to keep them out of the end zone, and we weren't able to do that last year. We're looking forward to getting back on the field against them this year."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 580-5315.