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Remember UCF Day on ESPN? A lot has changed in a year for the Knights

New coach, NIL, CFP expansion, oh my!

Derek Warden

A year ago today, ESPNU aired 24 straight hours of UCF Knights football games for fans to get a time out from the pandemic shaking up life as we knew it.

UCF Day featured eight legendary games, thanks to alumni Sean Barakett and Paul Muia who scored the rerun special at an auction the year before after donating to The V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Little did they know UCF Day would come at a time when Knight Nation needed it most.

“Everyone was down emotionally during the summer of COVID-19, not being able to see family or be with other fans,” Muia said. “This gave a chance for Knight Nation to come together and relive some of the best moments in our program’s history.”

A lot has changed since UCF defeated Auburn 34-27 in the grand finale of UCF Day last year. For starters, we got the Tigers’ head coach after Josh Heupel followed Danny White to Tennessee.

Looking back a year later, Barakett realized just how much UCF has changed since those eight football games aired on TV — some over a decade ago — for the better.

“Terry Mohajir and Gus Malzahn have re-energized the fan base when we really needed it,” he said.

Here’s a look at what has changed in the past 365 days for the Knights — including Malzahn’s Spring Game debut, potential College Football Playoff expansion, athletes profiting off name, image and likeness and, oh yeah, a three-game series with Florida.

COVID-19 shakes up UCF, college football

It’s a miracle the 2020 football season even happened. Between COVID-19 cancellations and lack of a vaccine, the Knights made it happen. Actually, UCF was the only AAC and Florida FBS to finish the 2020 season without a coronavirus-related cancellation since it started the season.

Josh Heupel leads the Knights to a 6-4 season

UCF rolled through Georgia Tech 49-21 at its season opener in September followed by another win at ECU, until suffering two consecutive losses against Tulsa and Memphis. The Knights reclaimed victory at Tulane, Houston and Temple until losing to conference foe Cincinnati. On Black Friday, the Knights defeated USF and a month later fell to BYU and No. 2 overall NFL Draft pick Zach Wilson in the Boca Raton Bowl.

It was a season of ups and downs — thanks to games that shouldn’t have been lost and the paranoia of a game getting nixxed due to COVID-19. Although the Knights finished off with a winning season, it’s hard to find the bright side coming off a 10-3 season and two back-to-back undefeated ones before that.

QB McKenzie Milton transfers to FSU, leaving Dillon Gabriel to lead UCF

In a heartbreaking manner, standout QB McKenzie Milton announced he was leaving the UCF football program. Recovering from a knee injury in 2018, Milton felt his best option would be to recover and find a program that would start him. In December 2020, Milton announced he was signing with FSU football, leaving UCF in the hands of the capable Dillon Gabriel. Milton is now cleared to play and has been seen slinging it in Tallahassee.

UCF gets a new athletic director in Terry Mohajir

Former UCF athletic director Danny White announced he was leaving for the University of Tennessee in January and was taking Josh Heupel with him. Terry Mohajir, former Arkansas State AD, stepped in and immediately started fulfilling promises in the half-year he’s been athletic director. For starters, he hired former Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn and led Knight Nation to breaking the Charge On Fund’s record with 8,156 donors.

Gus Malzahn is tapped as the new UCF head football coach

Gus Malzahn replaced Josh Heupel as the Knights’ new head football coach in February. The former Auburn coach, who went 53-27 in his six years with the Tigers, kicked off his tenure with a killer staff and even better recruits.

He made his debut with the Knights in the 2021 Spring Game, showcasing his ability to switch up the offense and add agility into the mix instead of just speed, unlike the Heupel offense.

5 Knights taken in the 2021 NFL Draft

Five UCF football players were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, a program record.

Marlon Williams ended up signing a free agent deal with the Houston Texans and Otis Anderson Jr. signed with the LA Rams.

College Football Playoff expansion is finally on the table

This is a big one.

Expansion is finally on the table for the College Football Playoff. Expansion, which will take years to implement, will feature a 12-team playoff, triple what it is now. Coach Gus Malzahn is all for it, as he’s said in several press conferences and even shared his thoughts on Twitter when the news broke.

College athletes can start profiting off their name, image and likeness

Starting July 1, college athletes are able to profit off their name, image and likeness. Several UCF athletes, like Dillon Gabriel and UCF volleyball’s McKenna Melville, have signed deals or started businesses that will allow fans to buy into their success.

UCF gets a three-game series with the Gators

UCF will finally get a chance to play with the big dogs — something Terry Mohajir hinted at in his introductory press conference; does “playing in a parking lot” ring a bell?

The Knights and the Gators agreed to a two-and-one series, starting on Oct. 5, 2024 in Gainesville. UCF will host Florida on Sept. 14, 2030 and will then travel to Gainesville on Sept. 3, 2033.

Even though the series finale is 12 years away, there’s a lot to look forward to in our backyard. UCF kicks off the 2021 football season Thursday, Sept. 2 vs. Boise State at home.

Daniella Medina is a contributing writer for Black & Gold Banneret. Follow her on Twitter @danimedinanews.