UCF deserves more credit for their 11-0 season. Understandably, their schedule is not the most challenging. However, they have quality wins in their resume. And, teams they have beaten have beaten other quality teams. Sure, they do not play SEC teams, but their schedule is not a joke.
The most remarkable part of the story for UCF, the team is 11-0 two seasons after finishing 0-12 in 2015. How did they do it?
In 2015, the team had high hopes. They finished the 2014 season 9-4 and played in the 2014 St. Petersburg Bowl. All those hopes were demolished. Legendary college football coach George O’Leary eventually resigned. He had built the program from the ground up, establishing UCF as a perennially competitive small conference FBS team. He produced quality NFL talent in the likes of Brandon Marshall, Kamar Aiken, A.J. Bouye, Latavious Murray, Matt Prater, and Blake Bortles.
Regardless of O’Leary’s success over the years, he was not with his downfalls. He was previously hired to be the head coach of Notre Dame. Days later, he was forced to resign due to inaccuracies over his biography submitted in his application. He had previously been head coach of Georgia Tech and resigned amidst an NCAA investigation into his use of ineligible players. This came after he was named the Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year in 2000. He made the jump to the NFL as the Defensive Coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, guiding them to a 10th ranked defense in 2002-2003. O’Leary then left the NFL to become the University of Central Florida’s head coach.
The UCF Knights football team has an interesting past. In 1979, the Knights played in their inaugural season as a Division III team. After a short stint playing a Division II schedule, the school finally completed their transition to Division I-AA (now FCS) in 1990. After the 1995 season, the team officially moved to Division I-A (now FBS).
Now officially Division I, the team burst onto the scene thanks to the phenomenal play of quarterback Daunte Culpepper. Rather than leave for the NFL draft early, he stayed all four years setting a slew of NCAA records including surpassing Steve Young’s single season completion percentage (later surpassed by Colt McCoy). He finished 6th all time on the NCAA’s total offense list in all divisions with 12,459 yards. The team finished 9-2 Culpepper’s senior year (1998) losing to only Purdue and Auburn.
Struggling to gain prominence after Culpepper left, the team had a mediocre record with many ups and downs. In 2000, the team beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa. However, the team hovered right around .500 and never could compete consistently at an elite level.
George O’Leary took over the program in 2004. The young Division I team was eager to establish itself on the national stage, and looked past O’Leary’s checkered past. The last year the team was in the Mid-American conference was 2004. The team finished 0-11.
The school joined Conference-USA in 2005. Not expected to compete, the team shocked the country and finished 9-5. Coach O’Leary was given national recognition and even received votes for national coach of the year. In May 2006, O’Leary was rewarded for his success and given a 10-year contract extension. The school also opened a brand new stadium, Spectrum Stadium, in 2007. These gestures showed the university’s commitment to the football program and desire to be a competitive school.
Slowly, the investment began to pay off. The school began to steadily improve. They began to make bowl games regularly and compete for the Conference-USA title. In 2009, they defeated #12 Houston, marking the first victory over a ranked team. In 2010, they were crowned Conference-USA Champions for the second time since 2007.
The 2013-2014 season was a turning point for UCF Football. The team finished 12-1, including a win over top-10 #8 Louisville (their first top-10 win). The team was awarded a BCS bowl game for the first time, remarkable for a school that had only become a Division 1-A team in 1996. UCF defeated #6 Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl era history. Following that season, quarterback Blake Bortles was selected 3rd overall in the NFL Draft.
O’Leary resigned in 2015 after he failed to live up to the high expectations; the team was 0-8 at the point he resigned.
Scott Frost took over the program in 2016. Frost had a strong resume; he was the Offensive Coordinator in Oregon and helped guide Marcus Mariota to the 2014 Heisman Trophy. The 2016 season saw the Knights compete again and they finished the season 6-7. There were rumors that Frost might leave UCF to become Oregon’s new head coach, but he stuck it out and announced his commitment to UCF football.
He was rewarded for his loyalty. 2017 has been a career year for UCF. They are currently 11-0. They play 20th ranked Memphis on December 2nd to go for an undefeated season. They previously beat Memphis 40-13 on September 30th.
UCF deserves to be in the top ten. Although they have not played an ultra-competitive schedule on the national scale, they have convincing wins over schools that have beat ranked teams. Call me a dreamer, and sure I love the underdog, but it is time they are given the credit they deserve.
Below are all of UCF’s wins. In addition, all of the notable teams the other schools have beaten. It is not UCF’s fault their schedule is not as strong as they hoped. They did all they could. If they beat Memphis on December 2nd, they should be in the top ten no question.
UCF v FIU: Win 61-17. FIU’s current record 7-4. Notable FIU wins: Marshall (7-4)
UCF v Maryland: Win 38-10. MD’s current record 4-7. Notable MD wins: Texas (6-6), Minnesota (5-6), Indiana (5-6)
UCF v #20 Memphis: Win 40-13. MEM’s current record 9-1. Notable MEM wins: UCLA (6-6), Navy (6-5), Houston (7-4), SMU (6-5)
UCF @ Cincinnati: Win 51-23. CIN’s current record 3-8. Notable CIN wins: N/A
UCF v ECU: Win 63-21. ECU’s current record: 3-8. Notable ECU wins: N/A
UCF @ Navy: Win 31-21. Navy’s current record 6-5. Notable Navy wins: FAU (8-3), SMU (6-5)
UCF v Austin Peay Governors: Win 73-33. Austin Peay’s current record 7-6. Notable wins: N/A
UCF @ SMU: Win 31-24. SMU’s current record 6-5. Notable SMU wins: Arkansas St. (6-3), UNT (8-3)
UCF v CONN: Win 49-24. CONN’s current record 3-8. Notable CONN wins: N/A
UCF @ Temple: Win 45-19. TEM’s current record 5-6. Notable TEM wins: Navy (6-5)
UCF v USF: Win 49-42. USF’s current record 49-42. Notable USF wins: Illinois, Tulane
Of course, their resume looks nothing like the Power 5 schools. However, in recent years, schools like Navy, Temple, ECU, Cincinnati, and Maryland have had strong years. Unfortunately, UCF’s schedule does not look as impressive because those schools have had mediocre years.
In the coming years, UCF’s out of conference schedule will feature North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Georgia Tech, and Texas.
UCF is currently ranked #15 in the Playoff Rankings, #13 in the AP poll, and #12 in the coaches poll. If they beat Memphis in the Conference-USA championship game they should squeak into the top 10. Schools ranked ahead of them will lose. Hopefully they get rewarded and will leapfrog the schools that do lose.
If UCF beats Memphis they will be invited to play in a BCS game. Here’s to Coach Scott Frost and UCF! Go get that perfect season.
By: Matthew Benedict