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September 28, 2013

Extra points: No Roland

ORLANDO - A look at some news, notes and tidbits -- mostly away from the playing field -- from Saturday's USC-UCF game.

Roland missing. Sophomore wide receiver Shaq Roland did not make the trip to Orlando with his teammates. USC confirmed Roland stayed home for violating athletics department policy. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder was listed on UCF's media notes as a starting wide receiver ahead of Damiere Byrd. Through three games, he led South Carolina in receiving yards with 161. It is not yet known if he will be out for more than one game. (We have a Roland update for subscribers here.)

Waldrop back in action. Redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop reclaimed his starting job at center this week after missing the Georgia and Vanderbilt games. Fellow redshirt freshman Clayton Stadnik performed capably in his absence, even earning SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for his play against Vanderbilt, but it looks like the job was always going to be Waldrop's once he returned to 100 percent.

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Bright and early. UCF's students were by far the first fans in the stadium. Armed with thundersticks (the AAC doesn't outlaw artificial noisemakers), the student section began accumulating at 9:40 a.m., two hours and 27 minutes before scheduled kickoff. The section was packed by the time the Knights and Gamecocks arrived at the stadium for their pregame walkarounds.

Part of that can be attributed to UCF's new first-come, first-served student ticketing system. After battling student section attendance issues (sound familiar?), UCF switched over to the new format this season. Students need only bring their UCF ID's early to the gate with them to ensure they'll have a seat, and it appears the new format is working remarkably well.

AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco was in attendance Saturday and spoke to media thirty minutes before kickoff. He said he was impressed after his first visit to UCF's campus before the game Saturday.

"It speaks to how well UCF has promoted itself and its brand and the things they're doing," Aresco said. "The atmosphere here is electric; there's no question about it. And it should be. This is a big game obviously, and they had a great win at Penn State. There's a lot of optimism and intensity about this team."

Aresco also said he is proud of the way AAC teams are going out of their way to schedule noteworthy non-conference opponents. He mentioned Connecticut's performance in a losing effort against Michigan, USF's game against Michigan State, Rutgers beating Arkansas last week and, of course, UCF's scheduling of South Carolina.

"What UCF has done here is very important for the league," Aresco said. "This will be an important game; I don't want to put too much pressure on them. We have to win games and we have to be competitive."

Not your average tailgate spot. I've never seen a college campus that resembles anything like UCF's. UCF is home to 59,785 students, good for the second-highest enrollment in the nation, with a main campus of 173 buildings sprawled out over 1,415 acres. Most - if not all - of them are less than a 20 years old, giving the whole place the atmosphere of a vacation resort. If I were blindfolded, dropped near the stadium and told to identify my surroundings, I would have guessed ESPN Wild World of Sports Complex, which is coincidentally also in Orlando. It's a huge contrast from the "bell tower tradition" feel you get walking around an SEC campus.

Sellout? UCF announced its first sellout of the season Monday. It's the Knights' seventh shutout in program history and the first since 2011, when they beat Boston College 30-3 in the second game of the season. Some bonus tickets opened up Friday afternoon when South Carolina returned a few of its ticket allotment, but they were quickly bought up again. But somehow it didn't look that way when the teams kicked off at 12:07 p.m., unless a hundred or so of those fans came dressed as aluminum seats. UCF announced a crowd of 47,605 at halftime.

Captains. South Carolina's captains for the game were Ronald Patrick, Brandon Wilds, Marcquis Roberts and Victor Hampton. UCF was represented by Sean Maag, Justin McCray and Kelly Davison. Interestingly enough, Davison joined the team as a walk-on in the spring of 2012 after serving in the Marines for five years.

Bounce House. Is that an earthquake I'm feeling? Thankfully not. Apparently Bright House Networks Stadium was engineered with the concept of spring action in mind, as the stadium shakes violently whenever the fans are urged to make noise. It makes the cameras shake, it makes the press box shake, and it makes me anxious to find solid ground to stand on.

Home field advantage. Coming into the game, the Knights owned a 30-10 record inside Bright House Networks Stadium, which opened for the 2007 season. UCF has also hosted and won two Conference USA championship games in the stadium, claiming the league title in 2007 and 2010.

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