Many times leading up to the 2021 Union Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl, the Black and Gold Banneret’s Andrew Gluchov has said that storylines drive the interest of most bowl games — especially those that take place before Christmas. While Andrew laid out a nice walkthrough surrounding those storylines, here’s some insight from UCF Knights players and coaches leading up to the much-anticipated contest against the Florida Gators.
SOMEHOW THEY FOUND A WAY . . .
Leading into @GasparillaBowl, @UCF_Football OL @schneidercole14 spoke on how cool it is that he got a chance to play against the #Florida @GatorsFB before ending his football career. #GKCO #UCFvsUF pic.twitter.com/eY2Vb60aC6— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) December 22, 2021
Before the current Athletic Director Terry Mohajir took over, his predecessor Danny White and Florida counterpart Scott Strickland were engaged in a skirmish of statements surrounding establishing a series for the Knights and Gators to face each other during the regular football season. While a deal between Mohajir and Strickland was eventually struck for the teams to meet starting in 2024, the Gasparilla Bowl represents a chance for players like offense lineman Cole Schenider to go out in a big game for his program that was previously thought to be an impossible occurrence.
The impact of this game is more than just mere bragging rights for fans. For UCF to share a stage with an SEC school that also directly battles with them for recruits is significant. As Florida is one of the top states for up-and-coming college talent, this event could have the eyes of prospects and their parents watching closely. Florida is a 6.5 favorite over UCF.
LESS THAN SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION
The #Florida @GatorsFB interim head coach Greg Knox not only has history with former coach Dan Mullen at @HailStateFB, but also with @UCF_Football DC @T_WILL4REAL from his days as an @AuburnFootball player. #GKCO #UCFvsUF @GasparillaBowl pic.twitter.com/jhdTA253Lk— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) December 22, 2021
It’s very interesting how much the Auburn Tigers program is linked to this edition of the Gasparilla. Those that follow UCF are likely aware of head coach Gus Malzahn, defensive coordinator Travis Williams, and team captain Markaviest “BigKat” Bryant as former Auburn people. But that’s not where the historical tie-ins end.
Greg Knox, the Gators interim head coach has held this title before in the past. It was mere days before UCF would eventually earn its national championship by beating Auburn after the 2017 regular season that Knox coached the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Tax Slayer Bowl beating the Louisville Cardinals.
Who was the coach he stepped in for at that time? The same one he’s in for now with Florida, Dan Mullen. Seems a bit ironic now that the Tax Slayer Bowl was previously the Gator Bowl, but it’s time to bring it all full circle.
Before Knox was on the sidelines with Mullen at MSU and UF coaching running backs, he was coaching wide receivers before Malzahn arrived at Auburn. And during that period, a certain linebacker at Auburn was taking snaps on his way to the NFL 20 years removed from his ascension as a coach to the defensive coordinator spot at UCF — T-Will himself.
NO GUS, NO GLORY
It's interesting to hear @UCF_Football head coach @CoachGusMalzahn respond to this question about the #Florida @GatorsFB giving their best effort considering his position at @AuburnFootball at the time for the 2017 season's @PeachBowl on the other side of the coin. #GKCO #UCFvsUF pic.twitter.com/H6Nb5PKAxs— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) December 22, 2021
It’s almost inevitable that when a big team, generally a member of the SEC, plays in an earlier portion of college football bowl season, there’s talk of how the team in question isn’t motivated. Of course, sometimes that’s the media also makes that case when a team didn’t do quite enough to get into the college football playoff and ends up playing an at-large Group of 5 school, as Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers did leading up to the Peach Bowl that eventually delivered the 2017 Knights their national championship.
While the fact that the Gus Bus has made its stop in Orlando is already slathered in irony, it’s interesting to see this response when coach Malzahn was asked whether he expected to get Florida’s best effort on Thursday.
In fairness, it is a bit more nuanced in Florida’s case. UCF is playing against a lame-duck coaching staff under an interim head coach with a quarterback in Emory Jones who has publicly stated that he plans to hit the transfer portal once the Gasparilla Bowl is in the books. . . the situation lends itself to more uncertainty and speculation.
Now whether or not Emory Jones is a potential candidate for UCF in the future is another story. After all, didn’t the Knights already recruit a head coach that they beat in a bowl game in the past? Why not do so with a quarterback as well if you can? And it’s clear that Malzahn thinks highly of him as he’s recruited at his previous job. Here are some thoughts that Malzahn shared about Jones.
Here's how @UCF_Football head coach @CoachGusMalzahn responded when asked about the challenge of defending #Florida @GatorsFB QB Emory Jones's running ability. #GKCO @GasparillaBowl #UCFvsUF pic.twitter.com/HOQDLCa6Cz— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) December 22, 2021