I said Saturday morning after the loss to Cincinnati that there was a need to address both the short-term and long-term situations facing the UCF Knights. Saturday morning was the immediate autopsy of a game – and season – which got knocked off track.
This column is meant to address the much bigger picture surrounding UCF.
One sentiment voiced Friday night was that UCF’s run is over. UCF is no longer “a thing.” UCF is no longer relevant.
If any of those commentators or college football fans were talking about 2019 alone, they are correct. UCF has been damaged too greatly and has too flawed a team to realistically stay in the Group of Five “New Year’s Six” bowl chase. Boise State would have to lose twice. Cincinnati would have to lose twice. Memphis would have to lose twice… and even then, UCF wouldn’t be in the clear.
The Knights’ chances aren’t TECHNICALLY finished, but they literally need every possible break – not most, but all – to fall their way over the next two months. That isn’t realistic. The 2019 campaign has been thwarted, even if the AAC championship isn’t entirely out of reach.
If you want to say the UCF hype and magic are over this year, fine. I can certainly accept that.
If you are referring to any period of time beyond 2019, get lost.
This program isn’t going anywhere.
Can we stop for a moment and realize how much horrendous luck the Knights have endured? McKenzie Milton got hurt. Darriel Mack got hurt. UCF’s defense – as I noted Saturday morning – played more than well enough to beat Cincinnati on the road. The Knights’ defense doesn’t need to be spectacular; it needs to be solid, relative to what Josh Heupel expects from his offense.
In 2017 and 2018, UCF’s defensive effort at Cincinnati would easily have been strong enough to win, and win decisively. In 2019? Dillon Gabriel and his receivers, AND his offensive line, were not good enough in concert with each other. They all suffered their share of failures.
If one person or unit did well, the other units didn’t finish the play. With Milton or Mack in there, the odds of such a red-zone disaster would have decreased sharply.
Now imagine a 2020 season without quarterback injuries. All the speed Scott Frost and Josh Heupel have recruited into the program will still be there. UCF has a solid foundation. This program isn’t going anywhere… which leads us to the program which blazed a trail for UCF (and yet doesn’t want UCF to succeed, for obvious reasons).
Before there was UCF, there was Boise State.
The Broncos did what UCF did, only better. (This is not a negative commentary on UCF, just to make sure no one gets the wrong idea.) Boise State played elite non-conference opponents early in the season and defeated them. The Broncos put themselves in position to contend for the national title.
Remember: Boise State went unbeaten in 2009 and defeated a higher-ranked opponent – TCU – in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl than the opponent UCF defeated when the Knights handled Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl.
The Broncos also would have played in the 2011 Rose Bowl had their kicker not missed a chip shot at Nevada on the Friday after Thanksgiving. TCU took the spot Boise State relinquished.
UCF rose to a very great height in 2017, but Boise State rose higher in 2009.
That run for the Broncos 10 years ago was not the product of uninterrupted dominance.
In 2007, Boise State lost three times, once by 12 points to WAC champion Hawaii and once to East Carolina in a bowl game.
If people thought Boise State was “over” – not just in that particular year, but for the long haul – they were sadly mistaken.
The Broncos delivered unbeaten regular seasons in 2008 and 2009. They didn’t lose more than one game in the next four seasons after their 2007 stumble.
Will UCF be as dominant as that? No one knows. Just realize that UCF being “over” is a 2019-specific thing, not a long-term reality.
The Knights have stockpiled too much talent to be wished off the stage by college football elitists.
UCF will be back. Mark it down… but not this year.
American Conference announces UCF-USF will be in prime time
The American Athletic Conference and ESPN have announced game times for the Friday after Thanksgiving, including UCF’s traditional battle with USF set for Orlando.
Cincinnati at Memphis – 3:30 ET, ABC
USF at UCF, 8 pm ET, ESPN
Tulsa at ECU, noon ET, ESPNU
UConn at Temple, 3 pm ET, CBSSN
Navy/Houston and Tulane/SMU announced after games of 11/23.
— American Football (@American_FB) November 18, 2019
In each of the last two years UCF and USF battled in the 3:30 Eastern time slot on the Friday after Thanksgiving on ABC. The game two years ago was as dramatic as the young conference could have hoped. This as it was for a spot in the AAC Championship Game and to keep UCF’s 10-0 unbeaten season alive. The Bulls came into the game 9-1, themselves.
It ended up being one of the highest-rated non-prime time ESPN college football games of the entire season with a massive 3.3 rating and 4.6 million audience for Black Friday. The Knights dramatic kickoff return for a touchdown by Mike Hughes (above) in the final minutes vaulted them into the title game. And, they eventually completed a perfect season, including their Peach Bowl win over Auburn.
A year ago, UCF continued their unbeaten win streak and rolled into Tampa on the Friday after Thanksgiving for an afternoon National TV game at Raymond James Stadium. UCF was in complete command, when suddenly the best player in the American Conference, quarterback McKenzie Milton, had his leg fractured horribly in a second quarter scramble.
The Knights went on to win that game with the Bulls and repeat, as AAC Champions with another victory over Memphis the following week. However, they lost the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st to LSU.
The Bulls have stumbled to a 4 – 6 record and UCF has also suffered three losses to this point, including a stunning collapse 10 days ago at Tulsa. That’s where they were beaten on a last-second field goal despite being 17-point favorites over the Golden Hurricane.
The conference also announced that the two division leading teams Memphis and Cincinnati, who has already beaten UCF and USF, will square off in Memphis at 3:30 in that slot on ABC that the Bulls and Knights occupied the last two years.
Interestingly, both the Bearcats and Tigers may enter that game with only one loss each and may end up rematching each other the following week in the Conference Championship game.
UCF holds strong in our latest power rankings
A tough loss for the Gators, a big comeback home win for the UCF Knights and a rivalry road win by the Hurricanes are all part of our latest power rankings. Here goes:
Florida Gators- The Gators did lose, but to another top 10 opponent keeping them in the top spot. The Gators dropped this one to the Georgia Bulldogs. The Gators inability to get off the field on third down along with the non-existent running game led to the defeat. Florida rallied twice in the fourth quarter to make it a once score game, but in the end, just couldn’t get off the field.
Now, the Gators need a lot of help to claim the SEC East crown. Even if they don’t, they could still end up in a New Years’ Six bowl game. The Gators will next take on Vanderbilt.
UCF Knights- The Knights continued their winning ways last week by knocking off the Houston Cougars 44-29. QB Dillon Gabriel stayed hot by tossing three touchdowns with 298 yards in the air. Running back, Bentavious Thompson led the team in rushing with 65 yards and two touchdowns. It was Tre Nixon who had the best day of the wideouts, not Gabe Davis.
Nixon (photo above) had six catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Next up for UCF is a trip to Tulsa. The Knight’s chances of going to the AAC title game are getting slimmer and slimmer as Cincinnati keeps winning. UCF will look to keep doing their job and control the controllable.
FAU Owls- The Owls secured a big win over Western Kentucky. QB Chris Robinson led the offense with 208 yards passing and two touchdowns. The defense came up big when the Owls needed it the most. With six minutes left in the 4th quarter, James Pierre came away with his second pick of the game.
The Owls are now tied with Marshall for the top spot in the C-USA Eastern division. The Herd won the head to head meeting so they would need to lose again for the Owls to take the crown. Next for FAU is a game against rival Florida International.
Miami Hurricanes- The Canes beatdown on Florida State 27-10 in Tallahassee. In the prosses, they put the icing on the cake for former coach Willie Taggart. Jarren Williams took back the QB1 role and didn’t disappoint. He threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns.
Jeff Thomas came back with a bang with 84 yards and a touchdown. Dee Wiggins and Brevin Jordan were the other two leading receivers. The Canes will look to make it three in a row when Louisville comes to town.
Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jags came back down to earth in London. The Texans took tamed the Jags with a 26-3 drumming across the pond. Deshawn Watson was on fire, only throwing six incompletions and two touchdowns. “Minshew Mania” may be over in Jacksonville, as he was 27-47 with two picks and two fumbles and now they will go back Nick Foles following the bye week.
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