For the first time in six years, UCF is playing meaningful baseball games in May.
Frequent NCAA Tournament participants throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the Knights took a step back upon entering Conference USA in 2006 but have emerged again on the national scene in 2011.
Now in the third season under head coach Terry Rooney, UCF is back in the regional hunt and looking to make the postseason for the first time since 2004. A successful weekend at No. 6 Florida State would certainly improve the resume, though the final two C-USA series loom even larger.
If the selections were made today, UCF would be in the field of 64 according to the regional projections of SEBaseball.com, Baseball America, Perfect Game USA and ESPN.
Barring a collapse, UCF would appear to be a lock for the postseason with an RPI rating of No. 28, especially with two wins against No. 1 Florida. The issue is the conference record. The Knights are currently under .500 in league play (7-11) . While not a dealbreaker for some SEC schools in the past, no team from C-USA has ever earned at at-large berth with a sub-.500 conference record.
Obviously, a strong finish would solidify their chances. Next weekend UCF travels to UAB before ending the regular season at home against Marshall. Of course, wins vs. the highly-ranked Seminoles in this non-conference tilt would only help the cause.
Prior to last weekend's series vs. Houston, Rooney explained the situation to his team.
"I think about 60 percent of our team, they know what's going on, and they're just going to play hard every day," Rooney said. "That's a good quality to have. The other 40 percent probably looks at the internet (regional projections). It's a little bit of both. That's good. I think every team in the country has that.
"I told them. I don't believe in not telling guys. If they don't like the pressure, then they're at the wrong school and in the wrong sport. But I don't think it's pressure. I told the guys, 'Look, this is exactly where we are. We're inside the top 30 RPI. We've had some great wins. In some ways I believe we control our own destiny. We've got to play better in conference. That's the most important thing.'
"At the end of the day, every game matters at this time of year. That's the truth. No question it's a driving force to put another (regional on the banner). It's a driving force for the players."