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Off the Cuff: Brave New Worlds

There’s always something special about the first home game in a new conference

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Central Florida v Baylor
UCF will celebrate the tenth anniversary of their 2014 Fiesta Bowl victory

One of the benefits of being old is you might be witness to something that years later ended up being profound. In my case, I’ve been able to be at every home conference opener as the UCF Knights joined a new conference and as it turns out, the first home game after the announcement that the Knights were going to be moving.

UCF unloaded on Akron after agreeing to join the MAC in 2001

In 2001, UCF signed an agreement to join the Mid-American Conference. That weekend, the then-Golden Knights hosted the Akron Zips, a soon-to-be conference mate.

The Zips wanted to rough up UCF and give them a “brass-knuckle welcome” to the MAC, which was demonstrated by dancing on the logo at midfield.

What happened next? In front of a paltry 15,779 fans, UCF exploded to a 50-3 halftime lead. When UCF scored that last touchdown with 0:32 left in the half, to drive the point home, they went for two (but failed).

Do you guys remember the long delay to start the second half? There was a reason why, but that’s a story to tell over a buffalo chicken sandwich and a beer. That was my first year as a UCF student and I was a member of the Marching Knights. I’ve seen some things.

UCF snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against Toledo in 2002
Kevin Kolczynski, Associated Press

Okay, so that was the first home game after the agreement.

Now, there was the first home game as a member. This was a home game against Toledo in 2002. The Rockets were expected to be one of the top teams in the MAC West Division while UCF was expected to compete in the East.

UCF was in control in the first half before the Rockets' running game took over. Toledo would come back from a 17-7 deficit to take a 27-24 lead with 8:43 in the fourth quarter and hold on to win by that score and cost the Knights a chance of a conference championship and bowl game.

This was a typical case of UCF “UCFing” the game as they found a way to snatch victory from the jaws of victory. UCF only gave up 72 yards rushing in the first half, but 228 yards in the second. Yeesh. These kinds of results largely defined UCF football in the FBS at this time.

UCF had a dud of a game on national television against Marshall in 2003
Randy Snyder

The next year, 2003, UCF was invited to join Conference USA. The first home conference game after the announcement was against Marshall, who would also be moving with UCF to CUSA. This was game three of a 17-game losing streak (more on that later) and the first home game during that streak.

On a rare Wednesday nationally televised game on ESPN2, both teams looked very flat as Marshall won 21-7. This was UCF’s first game after the firing of head coach Mike Kruczek and freshman quarterback Steven Moffett’s second start. Like his previous start, it didn’t look good as the team only had 170 yards of total offense.

This would be the last home game on an ESPN family channel until the Conference USA Championship in 2005.

Oddly enough, UCF would not win a home game on an ESPN channel until the 2007 Conference USA Championship. Prior to that, UCF went 0-8 at home on the ESPN family of channels. UCF’s first win overall was a 2004 game at Marshall, which was broadcasted on ESPN2. They’d win at NC State on ESPN360 and at Southern Miss on ESPN in 2007 before securing that first home victory.

UCF Fans tore down the goalpost after defeating Marshall in 2005

UCF’s first home conference game as a member of Conference USA took place in 2005. The then-Golden Knights had lost the previous 17 games and were hosting Marshall, their old MAC conference mates (see above). Marshall had won the first three times the two teams had met and UCF had just lost their first-ever meeting with South Florida.

UCF built a 20-0 lead in the third quarter and held on for a 23-13 win. The fans would storm the field and tear down the goalpost. A portion of that goalpost was taken back to campus as a celebration was had over ending the streak. It was coach George O’Leary’s first win at UCF and helped propel them on a run to a CUSA East Division title and a birth in the Conference USA Championship Game. This was my last season in the Marching Knights, so the next batch was as a fan and season ticket holder.

I wonder if UCF has this game in their archive or if CBS does after they acquired CSTV from Viacom in 2006 after their split? CSTV was the predecessor of today’s CBS Sports Network.

UCF RB Brynn Harvey scored the only rushing touchdown of the game against FIU in 2012
Tampa Bay Times

When UCF was invited to the Big East, it was December 2011 and with the Knights not in a bowl game that season, the first home game after the announcement was all the way into the 2012 season and the home opener against Florida International.

Coming off a respectable loss at Ohio State, the Knights got back on the winning track with a 33-20 win over FIU. Unlike the previous games, this was the first one in UCF’s on-campus stadium and the turnout reflected that as over 40,000 fans were there to see the Knights jump out to a 23-0 halftime lead. The Panthers would chip away a bit, but never really threaten. This would be the Knights’ most-attended home game of the season.

Connecticut v Central Florida
Blake Bortles was nearly perfect against UConn in 2013
Tampa Bay Times

The Knights never played a game as a member of the Big East. By the time the next season kicked off, they were in the newly christened American Athletic Conference.

Their first conference home game in 2013 was a late October game against UConn. The Knights played their first two conference games on the road and this was the week after upsetting ranked Louisville on national television so momentum was high. The Huskies were taken to the woodshed with a 62-17 drubbing. The Knights led 45-10 at halftime and Blake Bortles was nearly perfect during the game.

Bethune-Cookman v UCF
UCF announced their acceptance into the Big 12 Conference against Bethune-Cookman in 2021
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

UCF was invited to join the Big 12 on September 10, 2021. The first home game after that announcement was the following day against Bethune-Cookman. BCU, a FCS school, was completely outclassed as the Knights exploded with 35 straight points between the first and third quarters en route to a 63-14 win. The two highlights of the game were seeing the UCF Marching Knights and BCU’s Marching Wildcats do a combined salute to the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 and seeing fan favorite running back Trillion Coles score the only touchdowns of his UCF career. This would be the only game in this article I was in the press box for. It was in 2017 that I moved from being a season ticket holder to media.

Now we get to September 30, 2023, which will be UCF’s first game as a member of the Big 12 Conference and to keep the tradition alive, I will be there. Not only will I be there (once again as a fan), but the school will be honoring the tenth anniversary of the UCF 2013 team that defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oh yeah, who is UCF playing? Baylor. Hope to see you there.

Charge On.