ATLANTA -- Daunte Culpepper, the greatest football player in University of Central Florida history, does what he can to keep up with his alma mater, but there just isn't a lot of information on the Golden Knights in the local newspapers around Minneapolis.
"I see the scores. That's about all," Culpepper said. "And they haven't been too good."
Culpepper, a quarterback, escaped Central Florida's murderous schedule for the safety of the National Football League. The first-round draft pick, who set every passing record at the Orlando, Fla., school, now can watch and learn as Randall Cunningham leads the Vikings every Sunday.
"The truth is, UCF isn't that far away (from competing against the college elite)," Culpepper said. "If they just get a few linemen, they'll be fine."
Central Florida needs more than a few linemen to survive, much less compete, in its first four games this season. The Knights have a schedule that would make Florida State's knees wobble, opening with four consecutive Top 20 teams, including No. 12 Georgia Tech on Saturday.
After playing Purdue and Florida, the Knights start their Georgia swing. They come to Tech on Saturday then tackle the Georgia Bulldogs a week later in Athens.
A year ago, the Knights may have had a chance against any or all of the Top 20 teams on the roster. Air Daunte accounted for 11,412 passing yards. Now Victor Penn, a junior-college transfer who once played at South Carolina, is heir Daunte.
"The biggest thing about Vic is that he competes," UCF coach Mike Kruczek said. "He's confident inside of his ability to get things done. He believes in himself. He's just like Culpepper -- just in a lot smaller body."
Against the Gators, Penn completed 34 of 55 passes for 379 yards. His effort against No. 4 Florida also included three touchdowns and an interception.
Penn leads 0-2 Central Florida into Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. to play the Yellow Jackets, who lost 41-35 at Florida State the same time Florida was crushing UCF 55-27.
"(Penn) does remarkably well understanding signals and getting in calls, getting it to the line of scrimmage and getting it snapped," Kruczek said. "He has done a remarkable job running this offense, having just come in here and not having the benefit of spring practice. He gets rid of the ball awfully quick and has a pretty live arm for being a wiry kid -- he's not real big. Overall, I think he has done a great job."
Said Penn, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior: "I'm not going to try to be better than Daunte or do anything different that Daunte or try to be Daunte. I'm going to try to be Victor Penn. I'm going to help the University of Central Florida win football games."
While the Central Florida offense is Top-20 caliber, scoring an average of 22 points a game, the defense clearly is not ready for prime time. Purdue and Florida scored a combined 105 points.
After being chased into the basketball gymnasium for practice sessions by Hurricane Floyd, Central Florida now braces for Georgia Tech, which rolled for 501 total yards against the top-ranked Seminoles and scored the most points at Florida State in 14 years. The Knights haven't been able to defend the pass against Purdue's Drew Brees and Florida's Doug Johnson, and Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton may be the team's toughest assignment all year.
"Our opponents have thrown quite a few touchdowns against the secondary," Kruczek said. "We've got to get tougher, especially down in the red zone. Our guys will get better. I don't think the defense is going to lose any confidence at all. Maybe there is just too much scheme in -- they are having to think too much. That could be the case on both sides of the ball; I don't know.
"Joe Hamilton is just as efficient as the other two, probably more so. He's a lot better athlete. His improvisational skills are a lot better to make great plays. If you blink too long he's going to be by you and gone. It will be history. He's that good."
Next week, Central Florida faces another master of improvisation -- Georgia's Quincy Carter.
So why does a football team, an independent in just its fourth year of Division I play, tackle such a hard schedule?
"A lot of people think we're crazy for playing a schedule like this," said UCF assistant Mike Gooch, who's been part of the Knights' program as a player and coach for the last 13 years. "We don't see it that way. To have success, you have to set the stage for it. This is the stage, right here."
And it won't get any easier. Shortly before last week's game at Florida, Central Florida announced it had struck a deal to play the Gators two more times in the next seven years. UCF has a road trip to Auburn scheduled later this year, and in the next three years, the Knights already have games scheduled against Georgia Tech, Alabama and Virginia Tech in 2000, Clemson, Syracuse and Virginia Tech in 2001, and Penn State, Arizona State, Louisiana State and Syracuse in 2002.
"It's not going to be easy," Culpepper said. "But they might surprise some people down the road."
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