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UCF’s Path to Glory Has Been Filled with Trials and Tribulations

What these players have overcome isn’t just improbable - it’s impossible.

NCAA Football: AAC Championship-Memphis at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Ask any coach and they’ll tell you winning college football games isn’t easy. Going undefeated for an entire season? Well, that’s something that the vast majority of college football programs have never even accomplished. Winning 25 games in a row? Heck, that’s something that’s only happened a few dozen times in over 100 years.

People will downplay the unbelievable success UCF has had citing their “strength of schedule” and saying “teams were motivated” when UCF took them on. What the average college football fan doesn’t know is the heartbreaks and setbacks these kids have had to overcome.

From rock bottom to the top of the mountain

Amidst an 0-8 season in 2015, George O’Leary is fired as head coach of the Knights. They would go on to finish 0-12 with Danny Barrett as their interim coach. There was no doubt that UCF had hit an all-time low. That offseason, Scott Frost is hired as the new coach.

Two season later, Frost would lead UCF to a 12-0 season after winning the conference championship in an overtime thriller against Memphis. At halftime during that game, ESPN breaks the news that Frost accepted the job at Nebraska, a rumor that had been flying around for weeks. Scott breaks the news to his team in the locker room after the game. The players and the fans have to say goodbye to their beloved coach in a bittersweet day.

The Knights get matched up with Auburn, the team who beat both SEC teams in the playoffs, in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. In a shocking turn of events, Scott Frost agrees to coach the team in the bowl game while simultaneously beginning his job at Nebraska. Despite all the distractions around Scott and the entire staff leaving, the Knights upset the Tigers and complete a perfect season in one last ride with their coach.

A tough act to follow

Not too long after the Peach Bowl, Josh Heupel is hired as the new coach for UCF. Another hire by Danny White that came out of left field. For some players, this is the 3rd coaching staff they’ve had. The 3rd time they had to learn a new system. The 3rd time they had to buy into a new leader. It was no secret that the players absolutely loved Scott Frost and his staff. McKenzie Milton even admitted he thought about following frost to Nebraska just like Noah Vedrel and Tre Neal did. Heupel couldn’t have had bigger shoes to fill.

Going into the 2018 season, nobody thought UCF could run the table again and the preseason polls showed it. The Knights were ranked #21 in the AP Poll heading into week 1. It would be an uphill battle for respect from the media yet again.

The truth was nobody on this team cared what everyone thought about them. They picked up right where they left off and they kept winning.

Whether it was canceled games, horrible injuries or overcoming huge halftime deficits, the Knights rose to the occasion each and every time throughout 2018. The players embraced the new coaching staff and thrived in Heupel’s new system. I’d be lying if I said I thought they’d be 12-0 again after the regular season but here we are. All the doubters have been waiting for them to slip up but they’re still perfect after 25 games.

Unfortunately for these kids, being perfect still wasn’t enough in the eyes of the playoff committee so at 12-0, the Knights will face their biggest test of the year against #11 LSU (9-3) in the Fiesta Bowl.

After what happened to Auburn last year in the Peach Bowl, you know LSU is going to come ready to play and there will be a lot of people around the country wanting the Tigers to shut UCF up. With a backup quarterback behind center against one of the best teams in the country, will UCF be able to overcome adversity one more time?