UCF is heading back to a bowl game in Scott Frost's first season as head coach. This should win him a National Coach of the Year Award.
Now, I know there are a lot of head coaches who have just as good of a claim to the award as Frost does (Chris Peterson in Washington, Bobby Petrino in Louisville, P.J. Fleck at undefeated Western Michigan, Mike Leach at Wazzu and Mike MacIntyre at Colorado, among others), but consider this:
Scott Frost is about to be the first FBS head coach to take a team that went winless the year before to a bowl game since - wait for it - George O'Leary at UCF in 2005:
|Team||Winless Year||Record||Next Year Record||Bowl?|
|New Mexico St.||2005||0-12||4-8||NO|
*NOTE: FIU had all wins in 2003 (2-10), 2004 (3-7) and 2005 (5-6) vacated due to NCAA violations under head coach Don Strock. 2006 was a legit 0-12 season.
O'Leary won the National Coach of the Year awards from both Sports Illustrated and CBS SportsLine, plus the Conference USA Coach of the Year award for his work in 2005. Frost should be a shoo-in for The American's award, and should get consideration for others as well.
Frost's success in context should illustrate a number of points:
- Scott Frost's job at the start of this season was extremely difficult from a historical perspective, but maybe not as hard as we may have thought after 2015.
- UCF was already talented, thanks in large part to Coach O'Leary (but we should have known that considering we had just won a share of the conference).
- The coaching staff and players all but checked out last season.
- Frost got everyone to buy in quickly.
This is not to diminish the accomplishments of Frost and his staff, who instituted an immediate 180-degree change in the culture of the program. As I have mentioned before, O'Leary was the last 20th century head coach, and Frost is as 21st Century as it gets from both an X's-and-O's and player relationship perspective.
As a result, Frost's players are playing as hard for him as any players have played for any UCF head coach arguably since Gene McDowell. He has showed unwavering confidence in them, and in return, they have shown fierce loyalty to him. They bought into the program quickly, and the results have been immediate.
I personally am happy with the bowl game. It would be UCF's seventh in ten years, and several bowl projections have the Knights going to the Cure Bowl, which, if it happens, would be a lot of fun: a local bowl game in our old stadium. But there is still business to tend to before that happens.
Now comes the next challenge: the last two games against 7-3 Tulsa and at 8-2 USF. Winning out would be difficult, but it's possible.
If UCF does in fact win out, the Temple loss becomes truly devastating in hindsight, considering the blown lead, and the fact that the Knights were just one second from holding on and winning at home. Had Philip Walker failed to complete one of his final four passes that night, UCF would be tied with USF at 5-1 in the league with two games to go, and would control their own destiny for a spot in the AAC Championship Game.
As it is now, UCF's conference championship hopes are quite obviously on life support. Temple has the head-to-head over both UCF and USF, and the Owls are tied with USF and have a one-game lead in the loss column on the Knights with two games to play (at 3-7 Tulane, home for 3-7 ECU). Win one of those games and they've clinched the East Division for the second year in a row. But anything can happen.
Should Temple somehow lose out, the War on I-4 in Tampa would determine the East Division crown. This likely won't happen. But it could.