The 2017 UCF Knights football team was putting together a historic 2017.
At 6-0 and ranked in the Top 20, the Knights passed their first two big tests. UCF ran past the West division-leading Memphis Tigers and survived a tough matchup against the Navy Midshipmen. In our previous part, we looked at the first half of the season. In the second half of the season, the expectations and pressure grew even bigger as the nation began to take notice of what UCF was doing.
Climbing up to 18th, the Knights hosted Austin Peay, the hurricane midseason scheduled game. Austin Peay was a unique story in itself. The Governors broke a 29-game losing streak and were sporting a 5-3 record when they came to Orlando. Their offense showed a lot of gumption in the first half, doing a surprising job trying to keep up with the Knights as UCF had a 45-26 halftime lead. The depth difference between the two programs shows in the second half as UCF set a school scoring record in a 73-33 win. Austin Peay had to request a waiver from the NCAA to add this game. They ended up playing three FBS schools, losing all three. The extra loss from UCF is what kept the Governors from making the FCS playoffs.
As mentioned before, UCF had four big games on the post-hurricane schedule. At 7-0, it was time to travel to Dallas and play at SMU. SMU didn’t show up when the two teams played in 2016, but the Mustangs were having a good 2017. What was thought to be an offensive shootout turned out to be a lower scoring affair as the Knights survived 31-24. This was the first game with a single digit scoring differential. This game showed that the Knights were able to make clutch big plays offense when they needed it. It took a late drop by SMU to help seal the win for UCF and bring them to 8-0. Being one of five remaining undefeated teams, the talks of an undefeated season was hitting a fever pitch.
UCF had a couple of softer matchups ahead of the War on I-4, their rivalry game with South Florida. The first game was a home game against UConn. UCF jumped out to an early 21-3 lead before letting off the gas and allowing the Huskies to crawl back in. The Knights regained their edge and scored three more touchdowns to win 49-24. The tenth game was in Philadelphia as the Knights played the Temple Owls. In 2016, the Knights lost a heartbreaker at home by giving up a touchdown to the Owls with one second remaining. After a slow start and spotting Temple a 10-7 lead, the Knights took over and blew the game open with 24 second-quarter points. The Owls didn’t stand a chance and UCF went to 10-0 with a 45-19 win.
On Black Friday in Orlando, the 13th ranked UCF Knights hosted the 22nd ranked South Florida Bulls. This rivalry game, dubbed the War on I-4, had major implications for both teams. With UCF at 10-0 and South Florida at 9-1, this was a winner take all game for the AAC East division. The division title was significant because the top-ranked Group of 5 conference champion would be invited to one of the New Year’s six bowls. ESPN decided to put this game on ABC at 3:30 pm, which was the best time slot of the day. They were not disappointed as over 4.7 million people watched what is being called one of the best games of the year.
UCF jumped out to a 21-7 first-quarter lead before South Florida came back and eventually taking the lead. In the fourth quarter, UCF scored a touchdown to stretch their lead to 8 points with less than 2:30 left on the clock. The Bulls spent 40 seconds to score a touchdown and a 2pt conversion to tie the game at 42. UCF returner Mike Hughes returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to give UCF a 49-42 lead. The Bulls would fumble on their final drive to secure UCF’s undefeated regular season and the War on I-4 trophy. With the win, UCF would win the AAC East division and host the conference championship game against West division champion Memphis.
Only Eight days after the big win against South Florida, the 11-0 12th ranked UCF Knights hosted the 11-1 16th ranked Memphis Tigers for the AAC championship on ABC. The winner would also receive an invitation to a New Years Six bowl, which was assumed to be the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl. This game was expected to be a shootout as UCF was the top-ranked scoring offense in the country while Memphis was ranked second. UCF, riding a 10 game winning streak against the Tigers, had the home field advantage. UCF would against jump to an early lead 17-7 at the end of the first quarter. Memphis would find their stride in the second quarter. Taking advantage of turnover takeaways Memphis had a 31-24 lead at halftime.
The second half would continue the offensive fireworks as UCF found their mojo again, scoring 21 third-quarter points and taking a 48-34 lead. This led up to a raucous and eventful fourth quarter. UCF started making mistakes again and Memphis took advantage. The Tigers were able to tie the game at 48. The Tigers had the chance to tie the game but missed the 51-yard field goal. Milton would immediately throw a deep interception, but the UCF defense prevented any damage. The game was going to overtime. Both teams combined for 96 points and 1399 yards of offense. In overtime, both teams scored touchdowns. In the second overtime, UCF scored on their possession. Memphis receiver Anthony Miller made a highlight reel 4th down catch to keep the Tigers alive. Two plays later, QB Riley Ferguson threw a hurried pass into coverage and Tre Neal intercepted it.
With Neal’s interception, UCF completed the undefeated season of 12-0 and 12th in the final CFP ranking. UCF became the first team ever to go from 0-12 to 12-0 in a two-season span. Due to the magnitude of the accomplishment, coach Scott Frost has won multiple Coach of the Year awards. The celebration that day was subdued as coach Scott Frost resigned to accept the job at Nebraska. Frost ended up taking his entire staff with him, but they are all coming back to coach the bowl game. The Knights received an invitation to the 50th annual Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl.
The game is on Jan.1 at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN against No.7 Auburn, the Southeastern Conference West-Division champions.
Stay tuned to NGSC sports for more bowl coverage.
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.