ATLANTA — What does this 50th Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl mean? Choose your own narrative: If UCF wins, it will legitimize the Knights’ season and the American Athletic Conference. Maybe it will tell us that Auburn overlooked UCF. If the Knights lose, it will prove that they are overrated or that this conference’s Power 5 dreams are nothing more than dreams.
I don’t really believe in any of those statements for varying reasons, but those are just a few of the ready-made topics for plenty of columns following Monday’s game. However, before the kickoff of 2018 leads into the kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, take a moment to reflect on what the Knights have accomplished in 2017.
After Scott Frost took this previously winless program to a bowl game in his first year on the job, there were certainly reasons to be optimistic. And yet, most Black and Gold fans probably weren’t as optimistic as quarterback McKenzie Milton, who said he has thought since spring ball that this team would be good enough to face an opponent like Auburn by season’s end. From there, the players bought into a motto: Why not us?
“Why not us to go win the American? Why not us to go undefeated? Milton said. “We looked at all those teams on our schedule, and I see we can beat all those teams.”
They trained, they practiced, they got on the field and they scored. A lot. More so than any team in the nation. I think my epiphanic moment with this team came on this play by Adrian Killins in the September meeting with Memphis:
"NOBODY IS GOING TO STOP THIS GUY"
Truer words may not have been spoken 😏
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 1, 2017
I just had never seen anything like in a UCF uniform. That was when I first thought this team could be special. I just didn’t know how special.
The Knights continued to carve up their opponents, winning their next four games by an average margin north of 30 points per game. It wasn’t always that easy on the field, of course. Navy provided the first real resistance in what was a three-point game in the fourth quarter. That is until defensive back Brandon Moore lived up to his nickname: BAM.
"OH WHAT A HIT!"
Ladies and gentlemen, we give you…BAM! pic.twitter.com/p5Y8PrCFdI
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 22, 2017
They mostly handcuffed an explosive SMU offense in Dallas. They overwhelmed Connecticut. They breezed past Temple. And then I don’t have to tell you what came next.
The Knights’ capped their season thus far with perhaps the best game in any sport in 2017 and a two-overtime thriller that had as many twists as the knots in every UCF fan’s stomach during that AAC title showdown.
But it wasn’t easy off the field either. There was Irma and all of the havoc she wreaked on Orlando as well as, on a much lesser scale, UCF’s schedule. The impending arrival of Baby Frost exhausted his father to the point where he admitted to almost ceding the playcalling duties during that SMU game. The questions about remaining undefeated — and the pressures of doing so — grew as the number of unbeaten teams thinned. Then there was Frost’s move to Nebraska, which absolutely overshadowed the Knights’ championship chase at some points.
But the players never capitulated. They never fell prey to the distractions or the pressures. They knew they were going to get each opponent’s best shot and they stood tall. They made adjustments every week and triumphed no matter what new wrinkles were thrown at them.
“It’s been one heck of a ride, that’s for sure,” offensive tackle Wyatt Miller said.
The players are obviously focused on the Auburn Tigers right now. There is no time for them to admire their work. But Knights fans can and should because who knows when we will ever see anything like this again from a UCF Football team? If going undefeated was simple, the number of teams that found themselves where UCF is right now would be much greater than six over the past five years. The man who is the Knights’ acting head coach for the next 24 hours or so has called what his team has done “impossible” on multiple occasions.
“Win or lose in this game, this is a special group of guys and it was a special season,” Frost said Sunday.
Some Knights fans probably don’t want to hear Frost mention the word “lose” a day before the game, but he’s completely correct. This season has been rare, special, exhilarating and something you as a UCF fan will never forget, even if what happens tomorrow in Atlanta is something you would like to.