NEWPORT, R.I. — When you’re name is O’Leary, could there be anything better then opening your season in Ireland?
That’s what Central Florida coach George O’Leary is savoring as his Knights meet Penn State on Aug. 30 in Dublin’s Croke Park, which seats 83,000 for Gaelic football.
“My family is from South County Cork,” O’Leary said Tuesday. “So we should find out how many of them there actually are.”
The game came about because Penn State, which is in the final year of its bowl ban, was seeking to play a special game to start the year.
It’s actually UCF’s home game and is presenting a few logistical problems for the Knights.
Because, as is the case in soccer, Gaelic football plays stoppage time, UCF is having to bring its own timing equipment. Also, because of the configuration of the stadium, the first 10 rows of seats have to be blocked off so the ESPN cameras can shoot over them.
That’s still all good for O’Leary, but he does have one regret about getting to play a game in the Old Country.
When it was scheduled, Penn State’s coach was Bill O’Brien, who has since become the coach of the Houston Texans.
“When he called me about that, I was happy for Bill, but disappointed that it couldn’t have been O’Leary against O’Brien,” he said. “That would have been something else.”
When you’re 41 of 55 for 480 yards, that’s normally a good day.
But for East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden, last year’s game against Tulane was one he’d like to have back.
Despite the high completion percentage and yardage total, Carden had only one touchdown pass and saw the Wave’s Derrick Strozier return one of his passes 99 yards as the Pirates lost in triple overtime 36-33.
“It was a pretty frustrating day,” said Carden, who went on to finish second nationally in completion percentage (70.5) and eighth in passing yardage (4,139 yards) with 33 touchdowns as the Pirates finished 10-3. “We moved the ball well but couldn’t get into the end zone.
“You’ve got to give Tulane a lot of credit for that. They were terrific that day.”
This year, East Carolina gets Tulane at home on Nov. 22. But Carden said he hasn’t given the game much thought.
“It’s a new day and a new conference,” he said, “We’ve put last year behind us, but it will good to get them in our place.”
Where’s the team?
Following a tradition that goes back to the Big East days, with a heavy influence from the former Conference USA contingent, the AAC does not have a preseason all-conference team.
“The construction of our awards was kind of set up by a group of coaches from schools no longer in the league,” AAC Director of Communications Chuck Sullivan said. “When we put ii back on the table for our present group of coaches, they decided they didn’t want to have one either.
“We do it in basketball, but maybe it’s harder to get a bunch of guys to pick who the best offensive tackles are.”
Late start for the Bearcats
While the rest of the country will have been playing for two weeks, Cincinnati doesn’t play its opener until Sept. 12 when the Bearcats play host to Toledo.
“I’d like to find out how that happened myself,” Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We were supposed to open with Stony Brook, but then we signed a home-and-home with Miami, so somehow that was out.
“The only bad thing is that our fans will be watching everybody else play and wondering what’s wrong with us.”
The Bearcats will begin preseason drills Aug. 10, a week after everyone else as well. With the extra time, Tuberville will not have his team going though any two-a-days.
Tuberville is looking forward to the Oct. 31 game at Tulane, a Friday night game.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing down there,” he said. “We won a national championship in the Sugar Bowl when I was an assistant at Miami, and that was the place we wrapped up our undefeated year at Auburn.
“I know Tulane is looking forward to opening its new stadium. Halloween night in New Orleans ought to be fun.”
New digs in Houston
Tulane isn’t the only AAC team in a new on-campus stadium this year.
Houston will host Texas-San Antonio on Aug. 29 in 40,000-seat TDECU Stadium, which stands on the site of old Robertson Stadium, which the Cougars had used since abandoning the Astrodome in 1999.
“It looks really good,” senior center Bryce Redman said. “The old stadium was pretty nice, and I enjoyed the tradition and everything around it. But we’ve finally got a nice lockerroom. The old one (was) really cramped and a lot worse than most of the ones we had on the road.”
No Mbu for you
As one of the stalwarts for the Houston defense, Cougars senior defensive tackle Joey Mbu is certainly no disappointment to his father, Charles Nzams.
But at the same time, Nzams, a longtime FIFA scout, probably would have enjoyed seeing his son specializing in soccer rather than football.
“I kind of outgrew soccer by the fifth grade,” said Mbu, a 6-foot-3, 312-pounder. “I love the game, but my future was always in football.”
Did you know?
When Temple visits Tulane in the regular-season finale Dec. 6, it will be the first time the Green Wave and the Owls have meet since the inaugural Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1935.
Tulane won that game 20-14 to cap a 10-1 season. The game drew a crowd of 22,026 at old Tulane Stadium.
Officials from both schools and the Sugar Bowl are planning special ceremonies to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the event.