This, right now, is why Terrance Plummer came to UCF for college football.
Before the Knights knew they'd be moving into the American Athletic Conference, when the linebacker from Orange Park was weighing his college options, he saw UCF beat Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl. The promise of more games like that — like Saturday's sold-out home showdown against No. 12 South Carolina, like the Knights' huge win Sept. 14 at Penn State — clinched his decision to come to Orlando.
"I saw that as a marquee win for us," said Plummer, who also considered schools like USF, Vanderbilt, N.C. State, Maryland and Arkansas. "It wasn't like an 11-1 Georgia team, but this was an SEC team in a bowl-game environment. I saw that those guys could play against anybody."
Plummer, a 6-foot, 234-pound junior, leads the Knights with 28 tackles, has three tackles for loss and has the team's lone forced fumble. He had 108 tackles last season in his first year as a full-time starter.
"I've tried to take a leadership role, reach out to the younger guys and make sure they're doing things the right way," Plummer said. "I have to be a vocal leader on the field, get them together and onto the most important play, which is the next play. It's something I've tried to embrace, and every day is a new challenge."
Before the season, Plummer and his teammates saw opportunities — games that could put UCF and its new conference on the map in a big way. One already came against Penn State, and another arrives on campus Saturday.
"When we saw the schedule come out, we were so excited," he said. "We had a chance to play some of the best teams in the nation. There are a lot of those splash games. We're grateful for what we had in Conference USA, but we're moving up as a team into a new conference, and we wanted to up the level of competition so we can see where we stand against good teams across the nation. We feel like we're right there."
UCF is still in the "also receiving votes" territory in the national polls — No. 29 in the Associated Press, No. 27 in the coaches' poll. A win Saturday would elevate the program to another level, heading into next week's American opener at Memphis. Within the league, there are more games to circle, like a trip to No. 7 Louisville on Oct. 18 and a long-awaited home game against USF on Nov. 29.
Coach George O'Leary took UCF to Columbia in 2005 and played well, losing 24-15. And after 13 wins in his past 17 games, he's in position to take another major step forward. UCF was picked to finish fourth in the American preseason poll and he said he sees his team fresh off a bye week and hopeful it can make another major statement on its home field against the Gamecocks.
"It'll be a tough game," O'Leary said Monday. "There's no question we're a lot more solid. … It's been a slow ride, but a ride that had direction and has us slowly getting to where we want to get to."