Probably the biggest question of all entering the 2018 season is how will UCF Football deal with success coming off a perfect 2017 season? It was the greatest season in UCF history; one that they will be hard-pressed to surpass or even match.
30 years ago, in 1988, UCF Football was coming off their first taste of real success in the NCAA football playoffs (sorry, I will explain this concept another time). We started the season 5-0, including an epic win over #1 Troy, in the fabled "Noise Penalty" Game. We had visions of an undefeated season and a national championship dancing in our heads.
A look at the record books will tell you that never happened, but few now were there to help you understand why. After Troy we were ranked #2 in the country for the next three weeks, but we got caught looking ahead instead of looking behind us. We were now the hunted, no longer the hunters.
With some tough road games against the top 1-AA teams, we weren't ready for a #7 New Haven squad that shocked us in our own stadium. They were good, but we would have never lost if we had been focused solely on them, not future games.
After the loss, it seemed like our bubble of momentum had been burst. We rallied to win our next game at home, but our mojo was gone and we lost four straight to close the year. The season was lost as quickly as it started, with all of us left wondering what might have been.
In two short years, today's UCF Knights have gone from being the team that no one expected to win, to the team everyone wants to lose. Especially after an incredibly successful social media campaign that reportedly netted UCF $200M in advertising value. All that title chanting brings lots of enemies!
And success does strange things to young men. It gives you a feeling of invincibility and makes you forget what it took to get there. The memory of the hard work it took to create that success will fade increasingly the longer that success lasts.
Back in 1988, I remember when we were rolling along at 5-0, we felt more like a team of destiny with each clutch victory. But we fell victim to the toxic lure that success brings. We lost focus on the big picture. We celebrated more and more after each victory. We weren't used to this kind of success after all. We celebrated too much perhaps, not realizing the ultimate achievement we would cheat ourselves from.
I distinctly remember then UCF Coach Gene McDowell talking in practice about not thinking about a perfect season, not even a perfect game but instead focusing on just being perfect each next play. Most people who have never played organized sports cannot relate to how many variables come into play in winning a game of football.
The offense, defense, and special teams, any of the three main units alone can cost you a game, much less a downfall in more than one. Injuries, bad luck, coaching mistakes, or any multitude of things can cost you a play, a game, and a season.
The pressure mounts and the target gets bigger as the win streak gets longer. It's an impossible task to go undefeated in any sport, which is why it happens so rarely and why it is rightfully so special. These are just college kids after all, and, "To Err is Human", so the saying goes. To be perfect is not in our nature.
But as one who personally experienced a perfect season gone wrong personally, 30 years ago this season, I can tell you that these new young UCF Knights are much better equipped to handle such success in 2018. For one, they already know what it takes to be perfect against all odds.
In 2017, UCF pulled off a perfect season for the ages. Despite injuries, hurricanes, long layoffs, National Guard occupation, community service, and no bye for 11 weeks straight, they remained focused. Even through the ultimate distraction of a beloved coaching staff leaving, they remained perfect. So yes, these young Knights are well equipped for success in 2018, make no mistake.
There will be trials and tribulations, and yes injuries too, that come with any season. UCF will not possibly be as fortunate as they were with last season, but they won't have to be. They have experience in the bank now. They know first hand what it takes. Most importantly, they have the continued disrespect and disdain of the rest of college football to keep they angry, sharp, and focused.
Success and Championships are not new to UCF anymore. We are the example to others now. Three AAC Championships and two NY6/BCS Game victories have brought us that kind of currency as a program. #WeBuildChampions is our legacy. 2018 will be no different.
Side Note: That #33 listening to McDowell's speech in the last video looks REALLY familiar.