GLENDALE, Ariz. — The clock, the season and the streak all expired about four hours ago.
I’m still at State Farm Stadium, but not because I’m in a catatonic state over what occurred. The UCF Knights did not play a very good game today. I think that’s something we can agree upon rather civilly.
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was the best player on the field. The Knights couldn’t get off the field enough on third downs. Their myriad penalties were absolute killers. Darriel Mack Jr. wasn’t sharp. His offensive line got beaten far too often. The offense overall really struggled outside of a couple of drives.
The Tigers were undermanned and still deserved to win this game. If you can’t understand that, I don’t know what else to tell you.
Except this: Right now, at 6:31 p.m. Mountain Time, I feel the same way about this team and this program as I did at 6:31 a.m. this morning.
Tonight, to me, feels like a funeral, but one that is more grounded in celebration than mourning. It’s hard to let go of something you cherish, but all things, good or bad, come to an end. And tonight, UCF fans should celebrate what has been accomplished. The team will.
Sooner or later, the Knights were going to lose. It stings a little extra that it comes on this national stage, in the final game for so many influential players, against a team from a conference that represents college football’s ivory tower.
But even with this 40-32 defeat still wafting through the desert air, did what you saw today tell you, dear UCF fan, that the Knights absolutely can’t compete on this level against these types of blue bloods? It better not have because we know they can; we’ve seen it through the past two years as they dispatched everything in their path, including a handful of Power 5 opponents.
They came up short today, and it was ugly at times. While that’s quite different than what UCF Fan has become accustomed to, it doesn’t alter what UCF Football is now. Look at how much has changed in general since 746 days ago, the date of the Knights’ previously most-recent loss.
There is a winning expectation within this program. The class of athlete that resides on this team is totally different. The culture has also taken a 180. Back in 2015, the Knights didn’t trust each other; some players admitted that this week. Now, all you hear about is how much love there is inside of the locker room.
So much has changed, and this loss impacts no more than a sliver of that. It’s a single endpoint. It doesn’t erase what has been put in place over the past 2-3 years. Not going undefeated for a second consecutive season shouldn’t leave anyone who roots for the Knights feeling empty. Don’t lose sight that a 12-1 season is still pretty dang great.
Of course, UCF has certainly picked up more than a few haters during their undefeated journey. But like Reggie Jackson said more than 40 years ago, “They don’t boo nobodies.”
And yes, tonight is a night for those haters to celebrate as well. This game probably confirms all of their preconceived notions about the Knights that they never wanted to release, even as UCF reeled off W after W. So, why try to fight against it?
Note to UCF fans: Maybe step away from Twitter for a couple of weeks. There’s going to be a lot of schadenfreude expressed by those people who hate the Knights. My advice to you is to let it lie and die. As much as Knights fans celebrate without reservations after every victory no matter how the result developed, those detractors will revel because a loss is a loss is a loss. There is no argument that can stand up against that fact tonight.
But look before and beyond tonight. The recent past has been genuinely spectacular for UCF football. Those memories never die.
For the future, the memory of what happened in Arizona today will be used by the players to fuel UCF’s next extended run of success. No one thought the 25-game run would transpire following the 2016 Cure Bowl.
Following the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, there is a belief, an expectation, that the Knights’ next stretch of greatness begins tomorrow. When you look at everything that makes up this program right now — the coaching staff, the athletes, the swagger, the culture — that belief is warranted and should be shared by any UCF fan that feels at all sour this evening.