What a difference 12 months make.
The first weekend in September 2015 UCF was riding high. Two years removed from a program histroic 12 win season and a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor and having their quarterback Blake Bortles drafted in the top 5 of the NFL draft, the Knights were a darling of the media, an upstart contender. They had won 31 total games 2012-14.
Meanwhile in Tampa 52 weeks ago, USF head coach Willie Taggart was clearly on the hot seat: 6 and 18 in his first two years and an athletic director, Mark Harlan, that had only been on the job for a season was poised to oust him.
But a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to UCF continuing to be the darling and USF searching the want ads for a new leader: they actually played the 2016 season.
The Golden Knights got out of the box horribly losing at home to FIU 15-14, then after a loss at Stanford were stunned again at home by Furman and started a slide that would end at 0-12! George O’Leary abandoned his team and resigned after the 0-8 start and UCF went on to give up at least 44 points in each of its last five games. The last of those a 44 – 3 annihilation at the hands of the Bulls.
Speaking of USF, they opened last September with a blowout win over FAMU 51 – 3 but, a three-game losing streak to FSU, Maryland, and Memphis had all the talk that Taggart’s job was almost done. But the Bulls kept handing to Marlon Mack, who’s one of the best-kept running backs secrets in the South if not all of college football. He would finish with 1,400 yards rushing and new quarterback Quinton Flowers came into his own finishing with 2,200 yards in the air 1,100 more running and 34 total touchdowns.
Those numbers translated into the best numbers of all: 7 wins in their final 8 regular-season games for USF. That included blowouts of Temple, Cincinnati and UCF that ended the year.
When it was all said and done, Taggart had not only survived the death sentence, but got a raise and a contract extension!
So tonight, the Knights begin the ultimate rebuild after an 0 and 12 with former Oregon offensive coordinator and Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost trying to pump life back into the program. They have South Carolina State but as mentioned above they blew games to FIU and Ferman at home last year. No guarantees.
And tonight begins a USF season with Towson at home and likely Flowers and Mack going crazy like they did at the end of last season. Plus, the Bulls are actually favored to win their division in the American Athletic Conference and could be a top 25 team.
Neither fan base probably expected that dramatic a turnaround but 2015 proved it: one year can change it all.