This Saturday, Brian Kelly will coach away from home, in a professional sports stadium, in the November cold of a northern city, pursuing a national championship against a school which was formerly in the Big East Conference.
These details pertain to Kelly in 2018. He will coach in New York’s Yankee Stadium, leading Notre Dame against Syracuse, formerly a member of the Big East, as the Fighting Irish try to keep their national title dreams alive.
These details also pertain to Kelly nine years ago at this time of year. In 2009, near the end of his team’s season, he coached in the home of the Steelers, Heinz Field, against Pittsburgh, which is also a former member of the Big East. The team Kelly coached on that late-November day was Cincinnati. The Bearcats, if you recall, were chasing their own national championship dream.
How fitting it is, then, that while Kelly tries to hunt down an elusive national title with the Fighting Irish, his former team stands in the way of UCF as the Knights make their own attempt to win a national title.
Are UCF’s playoff hopes realistic? No… but it is well worth remembering that the Colley Matrix — one of the formulas used in the Bowl Championship Series rankings — did rate the Knights as national champions last year after the playoff and the bowl games, which is precisely why that national championship debate contained at least a measure of legitimacy, no matter what the national (read: SEC) pundits said. As long as other unbeaten teams keep losing, UCF and its fans will hold out some hope that even if they don’t make the playoff, they might replicate the Colley Matrix magic of last year.
They will throw another party. No one will stop them. They will enjoy it… IF they can produce another unbeaten season.
UCF might get locked outside the candy store… but it can still create its own sweets, becoming an independent confectioner.
Does this sound familiar? It was almost the situation Brian Kelly’s 2009 Cincinnati team encountered. It fell one game short.
When the 2018 UCF team takes the field against Cincinnati on Saturday, it will be looking at a football school which once carried the frustrations UCF shoulders today.
The 2009 Cincinnati team played in the Big East, whose status did not exist on par with the current Power 5 conferences — SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 — but which enjoyed more stature than the current American Athletic Conference. The Big East’s high-profile bowl victories in the years preceding 2009 — West Virginia over Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, Louisville over Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl, West Virginia over Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl — lifted the Big East’s profile.
It was almost enough to get Cincinnati to the 2009 season’s BCS National Championship Game… but not quite.
Cincinnati did what UCF did last year, and is trying to duplicate in 2018: go unbeaten through the regular season. The Bearcats came from behind to win their late-November pressure cooker in Pittsburgh and preserve their perfect slate. They then waited to see if they would get the one big break needed to play Alabama for the whole ball of wax in Pasadena, California.
They came one second from achieving that goal.
A Texas pass from quarterback Colt McCoy — in the final moments of the Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska — hit a railing in Cowboys Stadium with one second left in regulation. Had that pass not hit the railing, instead hitting the ground after diving a few more feet, Cincinnati likely would have been in the national title game.
In the final 2009 regular-season BCS standings, Texas — due to its escape against Nebraska — finished second and earned its date with Bama in California. Cincinnati finished third, TCU fourth, and Boise State sixth.
Cincinnati (Big East), TCU (Mountain West), and Boise State (Western Athletic) were all unbeaten… and all were left out of the national championship game. After the bowls, Boise State was the only team other than Alabama which still had a perfect record. The Broncos ended up in the position 2017 UCF inhabited when the final game had been played in January. However, Cincinnati was the team which came closest to qualifying for the national championship-producing main event on the first weekend of December… without getting inside the door. UCF and Ohio State, in their own ways and on their own separate levels, felt that same sting when Alabama was voted in by the committee last year as the No. 4 playoff seed and Clemson’s opponent in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.
The one big difference between 2009 Cincinnati and 2017 UCF — and, perhaps, 2018 UCF if the Knights once again complete a “perfecto” — is that whereas UCF finished the job in its bowl game against Auburn, Cincy was dismantled by another SEC team. The Bearcats were hammered by Florida in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which was Tim Tebow’s final game as a college football player. Cincinnati was denied a chance to play a postseason game with national championship stakes, but the Bearcats couldn’t throw a perfect-season party in January. UCF took that final step, and the Knights hope to do that again this year.
Yes, it is entirely fitting that Cincinnati is UCF’s opponent this Saturday, with College GameDay in Orlando and the eyes of the nation riveted to UCF’s plight. Brian Kelly might still be chasing a national title with Notre Dame, but Kelly’s first big run at gridiron glory came nine years ago with the program UCF can fully relate to in the present day.
The 2009 Bearcats wish there was a four-team playoff. The 2017 and 2018 Knights wish the AAC of today had the Big East’s level of stature in 2009.
All three teams would have wanted to play Alabama… but two never got the chance, and the 2018 Knights probably won’t receive the same opportunity, either.
Cincinnati then, UCF now. The past and present are brought together this week in Orlando, with College GameDay on hand to magnify a moment which is hardly new or unheard of in 21st century college football.
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.