LSU’s Ed Orgeron lifted the Fiesta Bowl trophy when the clock hit triple zeroes, and while it most definitely happened, as you can clearly see the picture above, it’s still hard to believe.
LSU did what no team could do since Arkansas State completed the feat 745 days ago: go 1-0 against UCF. And they definitely earned it.
LSU perfected their game plan, playing keepaway from UCF by possessing the ball for nearly three quarters of the game. They also took UCF’s offense out of rhythm by blitzing on nearly every play, forcing QB Darriel Mack Jr. to often throw footballs under duress. They also matched the physicality UCF provided after going down 14-3 early. From that point on, LSU outscored UCF 37-18 and won a 40-32 ballgame.
However, going 0-1 in a bowl game against all odds facing a team that has faced more adversity than most, if not every team and program in college football, can dilute memories of how UCF even got to a 25-game winning streak and how they positioned themselves to their second New Year’s Six bowl berth and a spot among the nation’s elite teams.
With eight months to digest and regurgitate the stinging defeat, this UCF team will often always be questioned as to how good this team really was, and that is absolutely not how this team should be remembered.
Some of the UCF Knights have seen a huge deviation of highs and lows. The graduating seniors went 0-12 as freshmen under George O’Leary and ended their careers winning 25 of their last 26 games.
“This is a group that bounces back, that is resilient, that came together to win games and accomplish great things,” senior Matthew Wright said.
In the current makeup of the CFP and the system, it automatically disqualifies schools like UCF, which despite their talent, will never be seen as a legitimate contender for the best team in the country. Schools outside of the Power 5 have to work twice as hard to receive half the credit and respect of schools within the Power 5 conferences. However, that did not stop UCF from playing its tail off week in and week out.
“This is a team that played with passion, played with love, for 26 straight games,” junior Trysten Hill said. “I don’t think it will ever be forgotten.”
The love and passion that Hill mentions led the team to 25 wins across two seasons, two completely different coaching staffs, a devastating quarterback injury, several miraculous come-from-behind victories, and two New Year Six Bowl berths. The only teams that have won as many games in a two-year span are Alabama and Clemson, the two teams vying for a national championship on Monday night, and the undeniable college football powerhouses of this era.
On a larger scale, this will likely be seen as a loss in a bowl game that will hurt fan opinions on whether or not UCF should be included with the Power 5 schools in the College Football Playoff. However, the way the team acted in defeat proves that this is not the team’s legacy.
“It’s been a historic run,” AD Danny White said. “It’s going to be a big part of our history. We’re such a young place, that our history is by in large in front of us.”
Before the 2016 season began, UCF made just one NY6 bowl appearance, but fell straight to the bottom just two years later, erasing much of the credibility it built after defeating Baylor in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
However, the legacy this team built in just two years has not only rebuilt the credibility the team earned in 2014, but it has built even more off of that foundation.
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“We’re not that little school anymore,” senior tackle Wyatt Miller said.
Now, it’s hard to even remember or fathom the fact that UCF was once a “little” school.
The loss is a tough pill to swallow for a team that accomplished so much and won a lot, but it should not, can not, and will not erase the legacy the team created in the past two seasons.
So, while the streak may be over, the legacy has just begun.