The Legend Of the Knights Of The Gridiron. It’s a catchy image.
Knights are associated with valor and chivalry and derring-do. No, playing football is not an act of heroism, but the Knights of the Gridiron have certainly covered themselves in glory. UCF just notched consecutive perfect seasons. Moreover, they did so without McKenzie Milton in the AAC Championship Game rematch with Memphis, and after falling behind by 17 points with Memphis driving in UCF territory.
Everyone on this team gave everything he had. When it would have been admirable enough to merely make the Memphis game close, the Knights somehow found it within themselves to go above and beyond. They were so good in the second half against Memphis — as they have been in second halves all season long — that this game wasn’t even all that close in the end!
UCF by 15: 56-41. The end of this contest wasn’t even all that dramatic. As soon as UCF reached chip-shot field goal range, up by eight points with roughly three minutes left, it was pretty much a fait accompli. UCF could have been stopped three times, and a short kick would have ended the contest anyway.
Of course, however, UCF wasn’t stopped. Nothing could stop the Knights after they stopped Memphis at the goal line, down 38-35, late in the third quarter. They held Memphis to a field goal and then dump-trucked the Tigers in a 21-0 fourth-quarter avalanche of flawless football… with Milton surely beaming with pride as he watched a TV screen while recovering from the November 23 injury which placed UCF’s grandest aspirations in jeopardy.
This team was bigger than its misfortunes. It towered over that heartbreaking moment in Tampa against USF. It gathered itself emotionally and realized it had more than enough fuel for the regular-season finish line. It was in many ways the program’s greatest masterpiece, the most perfect declaration of how deep, resourceful, and ultimately COMPLETE it was… and is… and continues to be.
Now, as bowl season arrives and UCF celebrates the fact that it has become the first Group of Five team to make back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl appearances, the Knights have been taken to Glendale, Arizona, for the Fiesta Bowl.
The Peach Bowl win over Auburn was certainly sweet, and it did enable UCF to claim a share of the 2017 “national championship” –– who cares what the outsiders and critics think? — but if the Memphis comeback on Saturday was the greatest moment in this extraordinary two-year run, the most important moment in the history of UCF football came in the desert nearly five years ago.
First of all, UCF fans: Just so you know, there were TWO 2014 Fiesta Bowls. I have to say this for the official record, since there was a Fiesta Bowl played on December 31, 2014, and January 1, 2014.
(You can trip people up in college football trivia by asking questions such as, “Who won the 1981 Fiesta Bowl?” Answer: There was no 1981 Fiesta Bowl. The 1980 season had a 1980 Fiesta Bowl in December. The 1981 season had a January Fiesta Bowl played on New Year’s Day of 1982. That’s when the Fiesta Bowl became a top-tier bowl, which it still is.)
The December 2014 game was Boise State-Arizona. That’s not a throwaway detail, either. There is a reason to mention Boise State.
The legend of Boise State began in the Fiesta Bowl nearly eight years earlier in that iconic game against Oklahoma. That night, when Chris Petersen called a Statue of Liberty play for a game-winning 2-point conversion, marked a huge moment for UCF and all the other programs which dreamed of playing on the big stage against the big boys. If Boise State had been blasted by 30 points on that night, would UCF have ever been able to play Baylor in the January 2014 Fiesta Bowl?
It’s not an easy question to answer… but you have to realize how much skepticism greeted Boise State before that game was played. You also have to realize that even after pulling off a perfect season in a manner very similar to what UCF did last season, Boise State didn’t get the benefit of the doubt in national debates.
Sound familiar, UCF fans?
Boise State went 12-0 in 2008… and went to the Holiday Bowl, not a BCS bowl.
Boise State went 11-1 in 2010 and 2011, and beat high-quality non-conference opponents each time: Virginia Tech in 2010, Georgia in 2011. BSU was sent to the Maaco (now Las Vegas) Bowl in late December in front of 35,000 fans, not the Sugar, Orange or Fiesta Bowls.
You could certainly argue that Boise State needed to beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl to pave the way for the UCFs and Western Michigans and Houstons in college football.
Boise State’s legend was formed in the Fiesta Bowl, so it is fitting that UCF’s origin story — The Legend Of The Knights Of The Gridiron — was also written in Glendale.
As was the case with Boise State in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, UCF was not expected to come close to the Big 12 champion in the January 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
Baylor, coached by Art Briles, had a loaded offense which shoved Oklahoma aside in the Big 12. Baylor, a program which had done virtually nothing for roughly a quarter of a century from the mid-1980s through the end of the 2000s, was built from scratch by Briles with remarkable results.
Say what you want about Briles as a man — he is disgraced, and rightly so, for his handling of Baylor football as an overseer and custodian — but as a tactician and a teacher of quarterbacks, he became one of the best in his profession. Baylor came alive with Robert Griffin III’s Heisman Trophy season in 2011. The Bears then completed their own outhouse-to-penthouse story, something UCF could relate to. Baylor was a 16.5-point favorite against UCF. The Bears didn’t carry a tradition-soaked name the way Oklahoma did against Boise State, but the expectation of a blowout remained — that was consistent with the buildup to the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, seven years earlier.
UCF, like Boise State, had other ideas.
Unlike Boise State, UCF wouldn’t need last-play magic to claim its big moment.
Blake Bortles has suffered through a miserable season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he did soar in last season’s NFL playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots. The man has a sense of the occasion, and that sense was first apparent in UCF’s 2013 season, which was catapulted to prominence by a prime-time win at Louisville against another star quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. Bortles found a way to make winning plays that night, and against Baylor, it wasn’t any different.
Bortles wasn’t perfect against Baylor, but like all great collegiate quarterbacks, his great plays were more numerous — and significant — than his mistakes. Bortles threw for just over 300 yards. Storm Johnson dominated on the ground, as the Knights rushed for just over 250 yards. They piled up 556 yards.
Remember when the Tampa Bay Bucs collected 501 yards yet somehow scored only three points against the Washington Redskins? Yards can mean empty calories and hold no value at all.
UCF translated its yards into points. (Pay attention, Bucs.) The Knights responded to every Baylor rally until Baylor couldn’t keep up any longer. Scoring at least 14 points in three quarters and never being denied a touchdown in any of the four quarters, UCF sped away from Baylor.
The final tally was 52-42… but that made the game seem CLOSER than it was, not more lopsided. This was not a 10-point win which felt like a three-point win. It was a 52-35 game with 4:30 left before Baylor got a window-dressing touchdown in the final moments.
UCF thunderously kicked Baylor’s butt.
The Knights had arrived in full measure, in the desert of Arizona. They, like Boise State, went to the Fiesta Bowl in pursuit of the statement which declared for all the world that if you give the little guy a chance in college football, he can compete. This is why UCF and its brethren in the Group of Five clamor for a shot at the College Football Playoff. The sport won’t give UCF that chance, but each new win in a prestigious bowl advances that cause for the future.
UCF, like Boise State, advanced the cause of the little guy nearly five years ago. Now, on January 1, 2019, The Legend Of The Knights Of The Gridiron can grow to an even greater height.
Don’t you just love it when a great legend returns to the scene of its birth? That is the case for UCF, as it prepares to return to Arizona to tangle with LSU for another New Year’s date with destiny.
USF and UCF got American Conference 2020 schedules Tuesday
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.
— American Football (@American_FB) February 18, 2020
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.
Speedy former UCF RB Killins looks to impress at Shrine Bowl
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.
— East-West Shrine Bowl (@ShrineBowl) December 2, 2019
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:
Longest run in @UCF_Football history ✔️
Longest run in @American_FB history ✔️
2nd-longest in NCAA this year ✔️
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 1, 2017
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.