Riding high off of back-to-back American Conference Championship game wins, UCF is celebrating with a 25 game win streak.
Now they know they will be playing in the Fiesta Bowl against SEC opponent LSU coming on New Year’s afternoon.
However, the Knights are certainly entitled to Revel in what they have done over the last two years and specifically over the last couple of weeks.
Overcoming the catastrophic injury to their best player and leader McKenzie Milton, UCF went ahead and finished off a rivalry win over USF. And then, last weekend disposed of Memphis for the second straight year in the championship game. It was not easy, as the Tigers built a 38-21 lead at the half only to have UCF and quarterback Darriel Mack storm back for 35 second half points in the historic victory.
If you haven’t seen it yet, here is a “behind the scenes” documentary episode of last Saturday from beginning to end courtesy of UCF and their multimedia Digital team called “Knight Flicks.”
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) December 6, 2018
We were struck most by first year coach Josh Heupel almost getting a tear in his eye addressing the team after the Championship win and saying what will forever resonate. Further, the point that no one can take away what UCF has done the last two seasons to get to 25 straight wins and two conference championships.
In particular, Heupel, who quarterbacked a national title team at Oklahoma, delivers the memorable line that’s in our headline above: “Moments like this? Those will last a lifetime.”
Those are tremendous for his team and for the future of UCF football, and fun to watch.
And, Heupel is right. No matter what happens in Arizona with LSU, and by the way, there’s a chance UCF might beat them just like Auburn last year in the Peach bowl, they will always be back-to-back Conference champions.
And no one can take away 25 straight victories on what became an increasingly bigger stage each step of the way.
UCF QB Mack Jr. looking healthier than expected
While Miami has finally settled on a starting QB, others throughout the state have more quarterback questions than answers as the 2019 season rapidly approaches. One of those schools is UCF, who’ve been plagued by injury in the position. However, a photo released from practice on Tuesday shows once-expected starter Darriel Mack Jr. walking into the stadium without a boot.
Knights247 reporter Jason Beede was the first to notice the bootless QB in a photo released by the team. He shared the picture on Twitter.
— Jason Beede (@therealBeede) August 13, 2019
UCF fans are beginning to make hopeful assumptions that Mack Jr. may still be able to be the Knights signal-caller this season.
We reported last month that he suffered what’s been called “a non-football injury” and has not participated in training camp.
Mack took over as the replacement for injured starter and AAC player-of-the-year McKenzie Milton last November. That’s when Milton was injured horrifically in the first half of the rivalry game with USF. He managed the lead that UCF had built to a 38-10 win, which clinched a spot in the Championship game.
The following week, Mack heroically lead the Knights to a roaring second-half comeback over the Memphis Tigers. After trailing 38-21 at the break, Mack threw for 348 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another 59 yards and four more scores in the 56-41 comeback win.
Mack was not nearly as successful in the Fiesta Bowl loss to LSU, where he completed just 11 – 30 for a puny 97 yards with one touchdown and one interception. And, he had -3 yards rushing on 11 carries, as the Tigers repeatedly sacked him that day in Arizona.
His injury has left Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush as the likely option for the Knights. Wimbush left the Fighting Irish program as a graduate transfer and recently landed at No. 64 on Pro Football Focus’ complete list of the top 130 quarterbacks in the country, making him one spot higher than the direct middle of the pack.
PPF’s Cam Mellor had this to say about the QB
“No McKenzie Milton and no Darriel Mack lead way for former Notre Dame quarterback Wimbush to be the starter in Orlando for 2019. Wimbush played a great season in 2017 with the Fighting Irish but struggled a year ago before ultimately giving way to Ian Book in South Bend. In Josh Heupel’s offense, Wimbush should be able to use his strong arm and push the ball down the field well, up to those strong 2017 levels.”
Wimbush was a successful starter in South Bend in 2017. He threw for over 1,800 yards and rushed for over another 600 leading Notre Dame to a 10-2 record. He also set the Irish record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with 14 for that year.
The Knights also have a McKenzie Milton-like QB clone from Hawaii, again, in freshman undersized but speedy Dillon Gabriel. The 6’0 185lbs. Gabriel broke several of Milton and Marcus Mariota’s high school records in Hawaii, including most yards passing in a high school career.
But, with Mack looking healthier than expected, there could be a potential for him to reclaim his spot as QB1 as they start the season taking on FAMU. This certainly will aid in their efforts at an AAC “three-peat.”
UCF QB Milton updates possible return
After his season-ending injury, and potentially life threatening injury against USF last season, the premier player of the Knights, McKenzie Milton is continuing his long road of recovery.
He spoke with SportCenter’s Scott Van Pelt on Tuesday night to give an update on how he’s doing, and when fans might see his return to the field?
“I really feel like we’re just scratching the surface here at UCF, whether I’m playing or not. The sky is the limit here and I’m grateful to be a part of the rising of Knight Nation.” -KZ to @notthefakeSVP
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) August 7, 2019
“I’m aiming for 2020 to step on the football field again, but at this point there is no set time table, I’m just taking it day by day. I’ve made significant strides but I still need to strengthen up my leg, there’s a lot off room to grow but I’m further along than any doctor or medical trainer would expect and I feel like that’s by the grace of God. I’ve had a lot of prayers and a lot of good people taking care of me and I want to thank the UCF medical staff for putting me in the hands of the best doctors in the country and taking care of my knee.”
Though he know’s he won’t see the field this year, Milton is continuing to look at the bright side of things, being grateful for those who’ve helped him in his recovery so far. Milton was then asked how it feels to not know if his game will all come back to him the way it once was. He gave this hopeful response:
“I’ve been in the hands of some of the best doctors in the world, and went up to the mayo clinic to have my reconstruction done it’s been amazing, the nerve is back to 100% so now its about strengthening up my leg… I was a lucky one that the nerve’s coming back so fast”
With his torn nerve healed, his main focus is making his knee stronger. But the recovery time isn’t going to stop him from continuing to make his mark with the Knights. Van Pelt asked him how much satisfaction can he could allow himself knowing the role he’s played in this program thus far.
He concluded with, “I’m just grateful to be a part of this team that’s went on such a special run. I really feel like we’re just scratching the surface here at UCF, whether I’m playing or not. The sky is the limit here and I’m grateful to be a part of the rising of Knight Nation.”
Even off the filed, it is certain that Milton will continue to improve the Knights offense, allowing him to lay the foundations for his potential college coaching career.
However, the Knights currently have more questions than answers at their quarterback position, and the solutions to those questions might impact, if they can live up to their previous two seasons on excellence.
When UCF’s presumed starter to begin the 2019 season, Darriel Mack, Jr., has suffered a non-football injured broken ankle, rendering him now out indefinitely. That has now thrown a real curve ball into coach Josh Heupel’s plan to have Mack be the guy, but potentially, be challenged by Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush.
Wimbush is likely to be the next in line, but the Knights also have a McKenzie Milton-like QB clone from Hawaii, again, in freshman undersized but speedy Dillon Gabriel. The 6’0, 185lbs. Gabriel broke several of Milton and Marcus Mariota’s high school records in Hawaii, including most yards passing in a high school career.
Even amidst the QB struggle, the knights are projected to have another dominant season, projected by the AAC media to win the conference title for the third year, and most recently being ranked 17 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll.
We’ll get a first look at who UCF chooses as their QB and if it looks like they’ll be able to lead them to another dominant season, when they take on Florida A&M on August 29th.