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New QB? No worry at UCF

The Golden Knights look forward to proving their improvement didn't begin and end with Daunte Culpepper.

There are nay- sayers out there, says Central Florida coach Mike Kruczek, and he and his team hears them loud and clear.

"Culpepper is gone," he said. "They all clearly expect us to fall flat on our face. The only people that don't expect it are the players and the coaches."

Daunte Culpepper set every passing record there was to be set at UCF, and took the Knights through its infancy as a Division I-A school, and is now with the Minnesota Vikings after being the 11th pick in the NFL draft.

How do you replace him? You don't. Therefore, it only stands to reason that the Knights will feel his absence.

But ask around, and the team doesn't share that view. To them, the task to continue moving in the direction of Florida and Florida State is not so daunting.

Just Daunte-less.

"Everybody was stuck on Daunte, and I don't fault them," said wide receiver Kenny Clark. "But he had help. This is the time for everybody to shine that didn't have a chance to shine."

The Golden Knights, 9-2 last year, are coming off their best season and ready to embark on their most crucial. UCF has improved each of the past three seasons, and last year nearly earned a bowl berth.

But most college football observers will tell you they rode the talents of Culpepper. Most UCF players will agree.

The mood, however, Sunday was not one of gloom. Asked if he was tired of all the questions suggesting UCF will return to the 5-6 days of the 1996 and '97 seasons with Culpepper gone, defensive back Jeff Fye just laughed.

"I love hearing it," he said. "That just makes us have to do what we have to do to prove a point. They think it was just a fluke with us doing what we did. But hey, it's life after Daunte and you just can't roll over and play dead."

Instead, UCF will roll over and play the toughest schedule in school history. The Knights will open the season with Purdue, Florida, Georgia Tech and Georgia.

For all his accomplishments, the one thing Culpepper could not do was win a game against a Division I team. The lack of such a win is probably what kept the Knights out of a bowl game last year, and prevents UCF from getting off the fringe.

Replacing Culpepper is huge. Putting a dent in their schedule might be even bigger.

"This is a critical year for us," Kruczek said. "We've been able to build each year. We beat the MAC teams, we beat the independents. We have got to beat one of these divisional, big "conference' teams. It's time that that happens."

There is great optimism around the team. They have a group of quarterbacks that Kruczek likes. They recruited their best incoming class ever, including JUCO Player of the Year and former Clearwater star Terrance Williams. The offense returns Clark (40 catches, 481 yards), wide receiver Charles Lee (46-656) and running back Edward Mack (482 yards).

The defense returns almost everyone from a group that ranked 26th in the country in total defense.

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