The 2017 edition of UCF Knights football has been nothing short of historic for the UCF faithful and the American Athletic Conference. To truly understand what made this season so historic, we need to go back in time a little bit and highlight the previous seasons.
Turning on the time machine, let’s start in December 2015. UCF had just completed their second winless seasons in the George O’Leary era. In 2004, UCF went winless to start O’Leary’s tenure and he resigned as head coach midway through 2015. Coming off back to back conference championships in 2013 and 2014, including a top 10 ranking and a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2013, it was majorly unexpected to see 2015’s team sink so low.
On December 1, 2015, UCF announced the hire of Scott Frost, the offensive coordinator at Oregon. Frost, a national champion quarterback at Nebraska and one of the most sought-after young offensive minds in college football. Frost had been a name kicked around as a potential head coach, but he had previously turned down every opportunity presented to him. At UCF, he saw the potential to make his speed based offense that he had at Oregon a reality. UCF, located in the heart of Florida, had plenty of talent at its disposal and a fertile recruiting ground. Frost had said during his time at UCF that it was easier to recruit at UCF than at Oregon due to the location. This had a material impact on the results in 2017.
After assembling a cast of coaches, Frost hit the ground running and the first player to commit to him was a little speedster named Adrian Killings Jr. In just a couple of months, Frost was able to put together a decent recruiting class with Killings, quarterback McKenzie Milton, running back Jawon Hamilton, wide receiver Drederick Snelson, and defensive tackle Trysten Hill. All of these players would become valuable contributors to UCF football. One notable change Frost did was move Shaquem Griffin from the defensive backfield to the linebacker. Griffin thrived on the role change. It was time to kick off the 2016 season.
UCF began their 2016 campaign coming off a 13 game losing streak. This included losing the 2014 St Petersburg Bowl to NC State and the entire 2015 season. The 2016 season opened at home against FCS opponent South Carolina State. With 2015 holdover QB Justin Holman leading the team, UCF waltzed pass the Bulldogs 38-0 and the losing streak was over. The next game was a network nationally televised game against Michigan at the Big House and it did not go well. Frost’s team got thoroughly trounced 51-14. The highlight of the game was an 87-yard touchdown run by Adrian Killings Jr. The next game was a double-overtime loss to Maryland. This game was the debut of QB McKenzie Milton in front of a nearly sold-out Bright House Networks Stadium.
UCF evened their record at 2-2 with a 53-14 beatdown at Florida International. Unfortunately, Milton got injured and Holman stepped back in for the next game against East Carolina. The QB change made little difference and UCF rolled to a 47-29 win. This was UCF’s first conference win since 2014. UCF’s fast offense and their fierce defense were proving very difficult to stop. UCF’s good times would hit a massive bump with a heartbreaking 26-25 loss to Temple. UCF opened a large 25-7 lead and lost it with one second remaining. UCF needed a pick-me-up to get back on the winning track. The prescription wasn’t for more cowbell, but a trip to UConn and the humorously conceived Civil ConFLiCT.
This “rivalry” game was conceived by Bob Diaco, the UConn coach as a manufactured rivalry. There was very little history between the two school as this was the 4th matchup between them. UCF struggled early but pulled away in the second half to win 24-16. UCF and Frost cared so much about the Civil ConFLiCT, they left the trophy on the field. It’s never been seen since. Armed with a winning record again at 4-3, UCF traveled to face a very proficient Houston Cougars team. Despite building a big 21-3 lead, the Cougars came back to win 31-24. This, along with the Temple loss showed that while UCF had loads of talent, their killer instinct to win wasn’t there yet.
UCF played Tulane in a rescheduled game due to Hurricane Matthew. It was originally supposed to be in October but was moved to a mutual bye week in November. UCF struggled badly on offense, but 3 defensive touchdowns led them to a big 37-6 win and brought them to the cusp of bowl eligibility. UCF would get to the bowl eligible 6th win the next week with a 24-3 win over Cincinnati. At 6-4, UCF was successful in their 0-12 turnaround. Unfortunately, UCF dropped their last two regular-season games to finish 6-6 against Tulsa and rival South Florida. The Knights just did not have the horsepower to keep up with the Golden Hurricane or Bulls, respectively.
Finishing the regular season 6-6, UCF was ready for a bowl game. UCF received an invite to the 2016 AutoNation Cure Bowl. This bowl has close ties to UCF as many of the community organizers who put the game together are UCF alums. The original concept of the Cure Bowl was even to have the game hosted in UCF’s home stadium. Ultimately, it was moved to the Citrus Bowl. UCF faced off against Arkansas State, the co-champions of the Sun Belt Conference. Despite being favored by Las Vegas, UCF was beaten in all three aspects of the games. Arkansas State scored first on a blocked punt for a touchdown and took advantage of 3 turnovers and 6 sacks to win easily 31-13.
Despite the bowl loss and a 6-7 final record, there was a high degree of optimism in Orlando. The offseason going from 2016 to 2017 allowed for a full recruiting class to come in and the numerous freshmen who played got a chance to work on their game. There were a few players on the 2017 roster that witnessed the 2013 golden year of UCF football. This included Shaquem Griffin, Tony Guerad, Chequan Burkett, Seyvon Lowry, Aaron Evans, Chris Johnson, Tate Hernly, Charles Sprenkel, and Michael Colubiale. Most of these players played some sort of notable time during the 2017 season.
The next part of this series will highlight the 2017 season.
I've been writing off and on since 2003, where I first wrote for Southern College Sports. After a hiatus, I returned in 2012 with The Sports Chronicles, a predecessor of NGSC Sports. After a brief stint with WBLZ in 2017, I have returned to NGSC Sports. Also, from 2015 to 2017, I helped run Off the Cuff, a sports program and blog with STLR Media.
I have done radio and podcasts dating back to 2006 with The Student of the Game, an NFL podcast. In 2012, I cohosted TSC Saturday Night on the Sports Chronicles and The OT With Andrew G on WTMY in Sarasota, FL. I later moved the OT to NGSC Sports until 2014 where I started The College Cram, also on NGSC Sports. After a brief hiatus, I returned to radio in 2015 with both Off the Cuff on STLR and The Mad Scientist Sports Lab on The Inscriber.