There had been questions about the legitimacy of UCF’s 12-0 American Conference Championship season. There had been outright disrespect by the College Football Playoff selection committee who continued to leave the Knights around 15th or 14th in their rankings for three consecutive weeks late in the year, before finally moving them into their top 10.
There was doubt about whether they could hang with an SEC team. Well, there aren’t questions or doubts anymore. On the first day of 2018, the Knights out-executed and outplayed the Auburn Tigers of the mighty SEC in a 34-27 Peach Bowl victory to complete their perfect season.
QB McKenzie Milton shook off an awful first half throwing the ball, and led the Knights to two critical second half TDs, as UCF overcame a 20-13 second half deficit to lead 27-20. Milton threw TD passes to RB Otis Anderson and WR Dredrick Snelson capping off long drives to build the lead.
He was named the MVP of the Peach Bowl.
Then, the Knights defense took over and when LB Chequan Burkett raced in front of an Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham pass and took it to the house for a 45 yard TD, it was a 34-20 lead in the fourth quarter.
Auburn would not quit and Stidham led them down the field on an 89 yard TD drive that culminated with Eli Stove 7 yard TD run and the lead trimmed to 34-27. Stidham finished 331 yards 2 TDs but two costly interceptions.
It looked like the Knights were going to put the game away with a clinching drive inside the Auburn 25 yard line in the final three minutes, but for the second time in the second half, failed to convert a field goal. Kicker Matthew Wright, who had a 25 yarder blocked earlier in the half, then missed a 38 yard field goal wide left to give the Tigers life.
But after driving into UCF territory in the final :30. Stidham threw this final pick to Antwan Collier in the end zone, which sealed the win.
Perfect season ✅ pic.twitter.com/7L2SQCcXD4
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2018
The game was coached by new Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, as he and his former staff of coaches stayed to coach the Peach Bowl and clearly his team responded to finish the unbeaten year.
It’s remarkable reversal for the Knights who were winless at 0-12 two years ago, and now finish as the only unbeaten FBS team at 13-0.
UCF freshman QB Gabriel already bringing home honors
If there was any chance for a two-quarterback system to continue at UCF, that appears to be answered already.
With Brandon Wimbush and Darriel Mack, Jr., both trying to gain playing time, true freshman Dillon Gabriel put a stronghold on the spot.
For the first time, this season the Knights started the same QB as the week before, and it seems like it will be like this for the foreseeable future. Gabriel, who shredded the Stanford defense Saturday, has the accolades coming in and was named Co-Offensive Player of the Week for the AAC,
Two players share this week's @American_Conf Offensive Player of the Week honor:
Dillon Gabriel of @UCF_Football threw four TD passes in the win against Stanford.
— American Football (@American_FB) September 16, 2019
Gabriel was also was named Walter Camp Foundation Offensive Player of the Week after leading the Knights to a win over the Cardinal by completing 22/30 of his passes for 347 yards and 4 touchdowns.
He was able to hit for TD throws of 28 yards to Marlon Williams, 38 yards to Tre Nixon, 38 yards to Gabriel Davis and 1-yard to Jake Hescook.
UCF scored at least 30 points for their 29th consecutive game – the longest streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision since 1936. They also won their 27th consecutive regular season game on Saturday.
Gabriel continues to follow in fellow Hawaii phenom, Mckenzie Milton’s footsteps. From the same town and school as the UCF quarterback, he is on the path with the awards. Milton, who was the American Player of the Year in 2018, but suffered a horrible career threatening injury in November, is helping Gabriel adjust to college and leading the Knights.
By the way, Gabriel is the fourth UCF player to receive Walter Camp National Player of the Week honors, since 2004, and the first since quarterback Milton.
If Gabriel is going to be the starter going forward, and barring injury, it looks like he will, we can expect more performances like this leading Josh Heupel’s high-powered offense.
He will get another test next week on the road against another Power 5 opponent in Pittsburgh in a game that will also be televised to a lot of the country on ABC.
Week three power rankings are tighter at top
Week 2 of the college football season was not very kind to a handful off the state university’s last weekend. While week 1 of the NFL season was brutal for our in-state teams, as well. After a under whelming weekend for Florida football lets take a look at how things stack up in our rankings:
Florida Gators- The Gators were one of the only bright spots last week in the State. It took Florida until the 2nd quarter to find the endzone, which is something they surely didn’t envision. From there, they would head to an easy 45-0 victory over UT-Martin. The Gators did suffer two potential major losses on the night. RB/WR Kadarius Toney and DB C.J. Henderson were both injured and could miss the conference opener at Kentucky next week.
UCF Knights- UCF put up a lot of points (above) and a lot of yards, yet again. The Knights went over 500 yards and for the 28th game in a row put up 30 points. Freshman Dillon Gabriel silenced a crowd of over 30,000 that was the largest in program history for FAU. The Knights put up 14 points in both the first and second quarter on their way to a blowout victory. This week they face Stanford coming from California into the “Bounce House.”
This game was looking like a ranked match up before the Cardinal lost to USC late last Saturday night. Still, this is a big game for Knights against a Power-5 opponent and coach Josh Heupel knows they have to be impressive.
Florida State Seminoles- The Noles slide into the 3 spot or did they really back up into it? FSU was painfully close to loosing at home to ULM. Had the Warhawks gone for two, like many expected them to do, they might have walked out of Tallahassee with Willie Taggart contract in hand.
For the second week in a row the Noles had a 2nd half collapse. After leading 24-7 at the break they went into the 4th quarter still up 24-21, but then faltered badly, again, only to hang on 45-44 in OT. Heading into conference play this weekend the Noles will need to get a grip on things or they won’t end well starting at Virginia Saturday night.
Miami Hurricanes- The Canes were oh so close last week. In the first true road game of the year the U almost took one in Chapel Hill. Freshman Jarren Williams had a great bounce back performance throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns. After being down all game the Canes took the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter with 4:45 left to play.
The Hurricanes though still want this one back, as UNC freshman QB Sam Howell hit a 20-yard pass on 4th and 17 to keep the game winning drive going. The Canes would drive down the field to attempt a 49-yard field goal that was missed. Miami though should get into the win column next week against Bethune- Cookman.
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