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Day after Fiesta Bowl- Reflections on UCF

Matt Zemek

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The UCF Knights won’t have the chance to proclaim themselves “National Champions”. Most of America thinks that’s a good thing. The Knights, as I have said repeatedly over the past month, shouldn’t care what outsiders think.

Two straight perfect regular seasons, two straight “New Year’s Six” bowl appearances, and two straight admirable performances against SEC teams in bowl games — overall point differential: minus-one (66 points scored, 67 allowed) — represent a tremendous body of achievement.

That UCF forged this two-year feat under two separate head coaches, and with a 2018 defense which lacked Shaquem Griffin, only magnifies what the Knights accomplished. They lost to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl by only one score despite playing without McKenzie Milton, their most important player.

UCF’s 40-32 loss was the most compelling and interesting New Year’s Six bowl. That is something the Knights and their fans can appreciate, even if the national media doesn’t focus on that talking point.

Ohio State might have beaten Washington by only five points in the Rose Bowl, but that game was 28-3 early in the second half and never truly competitive. Had Washington recovered an onside kick with roughly 40 seconds left, okay… but UCF actually had a chance to tie the game in the final minute with the ball, and the Knights led LSU 14-3 before that ridiculous unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which changed the flow of the contest. The Fiesta Bowl was much more genuinely competitive than the Rose.

The other four New Year’s Six games? ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Florida throttled Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Georgia and Michigan, respectively. UCF really did co-create the best NY6 showcase this bowl season… and without Milton. LSU deserves — and should receive — ample credit for sucking it up without several defensive starters and a number of other reserves, primarily on defense. The Tigers did not sulk in their bowl game. They honored the SEC by competing vigorously and earning a victory.

Nevertheless, UCF continuously survived moments in this game — chiefly with LSU in the Knights’ red zone — when the score could have gotten out of hand. The Knights persevered throughout this battle, and had their receivers come up with a few clutch catches, the Fiesta Bowl might have been closer than it was heading into the final minutes of regulation. UCF’s evident speed on offense did catch LSU’s backups horribly out of position. The Knights’ skill and athleticism made an imprint on this game — just not with the depth or consistency needed to win.

UCF, in a fuller and larger view, reaffirmed its status within the Group of Five and the AAC in this game. No other AAC team would have been able to threaten LSU with its speed the way UCF did. Cincinnati’s defense was gashed by Virginia Tech for much of a very entertaining Military Bowl. I doubt the Bearcats would have been able to handle LSU’s studs to the extent the Knights managed to do. Fresno State — the team which finished second behind UCF in the Group of Five this season — might have been able to pose a more physical smashmouth-style challenge to LSU, but the Bulldogs did not have the speed UCF possessed, and that is centrally important when playing SEC teams. Their defensive linemen and linebackers (even their backups) are simply a lot faster than the players at the same positions in other conferences.

UCF might have been playing LSU backups, but given its own limitations, it did relatively well under the circumstances. The more one thinks about this game, the more it is remarkable how close it was. Even in a rare defeat, this team showed every last ounce of the resilience which carried it to such lofty heights.

As this season comes to an end, I am struck by how many Americans reveled in seeing UCF lose. To an extent, that is natural, and obviously, the media had a role in publicizing UCF’s national championship proclamation last January. A lot of people didn’t necessarily hate UCF itself; they hated the media for giving UCF such an extended platform in the spotlight. Similarly, Americans didn’t necessarily hate Tim Tebow when ESPN put him on the tube 24-7 during his NFL days; Americans hated ESPN for “Tebow-izing” their content. It’s much the same with UCF.

Nevertheless, even if the media was at fault more than UCF, the national title proclamation rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

My response: Who cares? Why can’t UCF throw its own party? Who got hurt? Who died? No one. It’s FUN. Sports are meant to be FUN. Lighten up, America. UCF was just enjoying its success, something we all should do.

The larger story surrounding UCF is that, much like Boise State a decade ago, it is very hard to earn respect in college football. This is because SEC and other power conference fans go through several tough games a season, and they don’t want an outsider crashing their party with a comparatively lighter schedule. UCF should NOT feel it needs to schedule a 2-for-1 anytime soon, but the Knights DO have to find a high-end opponent and get a one-shot, neutral-site deal, the way Chris Petersen and Boise State did in their time.

Boise State beat Virginia Tech in the midst of the Hokies’ ACC golden age in 2010, and then beat Georgia in Atlanta in 2011, in a year when the Bulldogs won the SEC East and were a very good team. Those wins didn’t turn SEC observers into complete Boise State fans, far from it, but they DID at least show that Boise State was willing to play people anywhere, and they showed that the Broncos could in fact win such games when given the chance.

The national media is wrong about the 2-for-1 and the need to accept it, but the national media is not incorrect in saying that UCF does need to find ways to play elite Power Five schools. Danny White just needs to find the right partner under the right circumstances.

UCF has put in so much good work over the past two years, but in many ways, the journey is only just beginning. Boise State won the 2007 Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma, and the Broncos had to carry that victory forward. They did. They are still relevant in the Group of Five world — not the best, but regularly in the hunt for that championship and the New Year’s Six most seasons. UCF faces that challenge now, and the task just got tougher with Houston landing Dana Holgorsen as its new head coach.

The Knights benefited from a weak AAC in 2018 — let’s not pretend that this conference was particularly good (it wasn’t). They have to anticipate that the AAC will get stronger, which means they are probably going to lose a game in conference play. In order to make more New Year’s Six bowls, UCF will need high-quality non-conference wins on its resume in the future.

The Knights have won respect from people who appreciate what they had to go through. They know, of course, that the battle for respect never ends. It is time to win new battles in 2019 and beyond.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

UCF Knights

USF and UCF got American Conference 2020 schedules Tuesday

Florida Football Insiders

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday afternoon the American Athletic Conference made official is 2020 football dates for opponents for its conference members. And, that means UCF and USF got to look for the first time at their full conference slates and when they are playing whom.

First for the Knights, they learned that they will open year three of coach Josh Heupel’s conference play on Thursday night September 24th at East Carolina. It is one of three stand-alone weeknight(day) games UCF has on their schedule.

The next one will be Friday night October 16th, as UCF travels to play the Memphis Tigers. That’s a team that the Knights defeated for two Conference Championship Game victories in 2017 and 18.

UCF will also play a traditional “War on I-4” game with the rival Bulls on the Friday after Thanksgiving November 27th. This will be the fourth straight year of playing on “Black Friday.”

As for the Knights other part of the league schedule, they will have their AAC home opener with Tulsa on Saturday October 3rd and then, finish the slate with two huge home matchups with Temple Saturday November 14th followed by Cincinnati at Spectrum Stadium the following week.

For the Bulls, who welcome first year coach Jeff Scott in 2020, they will only have two standalone appearances in conference play. Those will be a Friday night home game October 23rd with Tulsa and then, the previously mentioned final rivalry game with UCF on Friday November 27th.

The Bulls first conference game of the season will be at Cincinnati on October 3rd, while the home opener is East Carolina the following week at Raymond James Stadium.

USF has a tough road slate beginning at Temple on October 17th and then, after the Friday night home game with Tulsa, playing at Memphis November 7th and at Houston November 14th.

The conference is playing 2020 with only 11 members, as UConn has departed and gone back to the Big East. This will also be the first time that the AAC doesn’t play a two six team division format and will instead take the top two ranked teams in conference play for it’s December Championship Game.

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UCF Knights

Speedy former UCF RB Killins looks to impress at Shrine Bowl

Florida Football Insiders

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One-player eager to start showcasing himself Saturday afternoon in the pre-draft process  in St Petersburg is former UCF speedster RB, Adrian Killins.

Killins ,who just finished four years of highlight runs and touchdowns for the the Knights will participate in the East-West Shrine Bowl.

Killins is generously listed at 5’9 and 165 lb. and came UCF without much fanfare from Daytona Mainland High School. However, he had been an explosive player on the football gridiron, and he was also a former two time 3A State 200m track champion before coming to Orlando.

Once at UCF in 2016, Killins immediately showed off his explosiveness and moniker of “fastest player in college football” with a 100-yard kickoff return at ECU and an 87 yard touchdown run at “the Big House” in Ann Arbor against Michigan.

His best season was his sophomore year, when he was named First Team All American Athletic Conference RB, as he rushed for 790 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead UCF. He showed versatility and caught another additional 25 passes for 169 yards.

He also set a UCF record for longest play from scrimmage that still stands, in the UCF regular season win over Memphis, as he took a handoff and the looked like a missle racing down the sideline:

Killins helped the Knights experience their greatest season ever at 13 – 0 with not only a thrilling double-overtime conference title game rematch win over the Tigers, but a New Year’s Day upset of SEC Powerhouse Auburn in the Peach Bowl for the perfect season.

His next two years under Josh Heupel and his new coaching staff were not as spectacular. But, he still he would make the occasional explosive run and finished his career with over 1,700 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.

He did leave a final impression with his 115 yards and 1 TD in the regular season finale with USF.

Now, he knows that with his smaller size, even with blazing speed, he will be challenged to stick on an NFL roster, and another way might be as a kick returner. Killins left UCF with a career 21.8 avg on 47 returns as a Knight.

He will likely need to show that part of his game to help him get a realistic shot at the next level. And, we wait to see if there will be explosive plays from him Saturday.

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