The University of Central Florida Knights finished the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record, the only team in the Top 25 to finish with an unblemished record. They won the American Athletic Conference and finished as the #12 team in the country in the final regular season college football rankings.
ATLANTA — McKenzie Milton threw two touchdown passes and ran for 116 yards with another touchdown, leading No. 10 UCF to a 34-27 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over No. 7 Auburn on Monday that capped the Knights’ perfect season. UCF led 34-20 before having to stop a late Auburn comeback.
They had victories over #20 Memphis, Charlie Strong’s high powered USF Bulls and the always difficult Navy Midshipmen, a squad which constantly gives top teams fits (just ask Notre Dame, who lost to Navy 24-17). But as is the norm with college football and the money behind it, the Knights were overlooked by the “experts”, whose favoritism towards the Power Five conferences always blinds them from recognizing talented teams who don’t have the letters “SEC” somewhere in their bio.
But everyone knows that real ballers ball, and good teams are still good teams regardless of the conference they reside in. So UCF, led by head coach and former Nebraska Cornhusker QB Scott Frost, took the field against mighty Auburn and proceeded to prove everyone who doubted them horribly wrong, defeating the Tigers of the powerhouse SEC, 34-27, in the Peach Bowl.
LET IT SNOW!!! #ChargeOn https://t.co/HDTiQHHSQj
Frost, who stayed on to coach the team before heading back to Nebraska as the new coach of the Cornhuskers, always believed in his team and knew they were special despite the “experts” hating on his Knights. He was unapologetic in his venom towards the system and he has every right to spew it as he inherited a team that was 0-12 two years ago, led them to six wins last year and punctuated his final year with the Knights with a perfect season.
“It wasn’t right,” said Frost after the game. “I was watching [the selection show] every week, the committee sitting in a room and deciding that this two-loss team must be better than UCF because UCF is in the American, or this three-loss team must be better than UCF.
“It looked like a conscious effort to me to make sure that they didn’t have a problem if they put us too high and a couple teams ahead of us lost. And oh, no, now we have to put them in a playoff? But we just beat [Auburn] that beat two playoff teams and lost to another one by six points, and we beat them by seven.”
Despite accepting the job at his alma mater, Frost decided to stay on through the end as he knew the team and players were special. After their Peach Bowl win, “special” seems to be an understatement and the coach heaped all of the praise upon the team, especially those who had to fight through the Knights’ winless season two years ago.
I hold my head high because through this whole process and decisions everything and, I tried to do everything the right way the best that I knew how. It was the right thing to do to come coach these guys. I’m not happy for me. I’m so happy for these guys. I told them in the locker room, this was an 0-12 group when I got there, and they looked like they weren’t having any fun and didn’t care about each other. We had a long way to go, and to think that they are sitting here Peach Bowl champions and 13-0 in two years, I couldn’t be happier for them.
We’ll line up and go against anybody. I’ll take our ball club against anybody in the country” Hear more from KZ, Shaq and Coach after the game https://t.co/xPd75iMsri
UCF’s underappreciated success is nothing new though, as it seems like every season college football fans are given an underdog to root for. A team who strength of schedule is ridiculed for lacking signature wins or one whose victories are essentially dismissed as they don’t play in a Power Five conference. This form of athletic elitism has plagued college football for decades, and it’s a lesson that those in control refuse to learn or even acknowledge.
When the BCS was in place, Urban Meyer, Alex Smith and Utah became the first non-BCS conference school to win a BCS game when it destroyed Pitt 35-7 in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Utah was undefeated at the time and Pitt had two loses, the latter which also caused much debate as they had two loses yet were Big East champs and BCS Bowl bound by default of that title.
Two years later Boise State, another non-automatic qualifying school, shocked the world in the Fiesta Bowl by defeating the mighty Oklahoma Sooners in OT, 43-42. Two years after that, Utah did it again, this time beating Alabama, 31-17, in the Sugar Bowl. In 2010 Boise did it again, beating another non-automatic qualifying school, TCU, 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.
These games validated the fact that ballers ball regardless of the conference. They also contributed to the major conference expansion, which transpired during that time as schools recognized that the only way they would be mentioned in national championship discussions would be if they played in a major conference. So Utah bounced to the Pac-12, TCU went to the Big East briefly and then broke out quickly when the Big 12 called, Boise went to the Mountain West and the American Athletic Conference was formed.
It’s a shame that UCF didn’t receive the serious acknowledgment they deserved as a college football playoff worthy team, because the way played against Auburn on both sides of the ball proved that they could play with Georgia, Oklahoma, Alabama or Clemson. Fan wise, it would be a great game, but UCF vs any of those schools isn’t as monetarily or TV promo attractive as a re-match between the schools in last year’s National Championship game. The Knights gave everyone 34 reasons why they deserved to be there on Monday evening, but the AAC doesn’t carry as much (financial) clout as the ACC or SEC.
Highlights from the 2018 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl that saw No. 12 UCF take down No. 7 Auburn and remain the only undefeated team in the nation for the 2017 season. Full recap: http://ucfknights.com/news/2018/1/1/football-peach-perfect.aspx?path=football
“Auburn is a great team,” Frost said. “I’m not taking anything away from them. I give them a ton of credit. But these guys deserve everything they get, and they deserve more credit from the committee than what they got.”
They damn sure did. And by the way, as a member of the American Athletic Conference in 2014, UCF beat Baylor 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl, the final year of the BCS.
Another lesson taught yet still not learned.