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Sunday, March 24, 2019

Football

The Other Side: UCF win could catapult Knights into contenders


Central Florida quarterback Justin Holman (13) is sacked by Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts (44) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The University of Central Florida Golden Knights will try to hand the Cougars back-to-back losses for the first time since 2013. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

The University of Central Florida needs this game.

Not to say that a loss Saturday would cause a tailspin quite like anything experienced in the inner circle of hell that was a winless 2015 season, but a win for Scott Frost and his UCF program has the potential to launch them right back into the powers that be within the American Athletic Conference.

Think of the circumstances: The Knights were only two big plays away from sitting at 5-1, 3-0 in AAC contention, but UCF is bouncing back quicker than most fans had any reason to hope was possible.

Not closing out those two big games or truly competing at The Big House are signs of the process; signs that even in times of triumph there is still a marathon to run in regaining former powerhouse status. They blew it in double overtime against the University of Maryland, and then again as time expired at home against Temple University.

Handing Houston a loss at home?

If you had asked any fan, media member or casual passerby about those prospects before September rolled around, the response would have been just short of a recommendation for institutionalization — nobody thought it would even be a conversation to be had.

The simple fact that we are considering the possibility speaks volumes to the progress that has been made by the Knights. UCF has far more to gain from a conference win at Houston this weekend than the Cougars do as they battle in the ashes of what was once a season primed to shatter the Power Five saturation in playoff contention.

If the Knights can pull out the upset, there is an intangible confidence that a team on the rise needs in completing the transition from basement-dweller to contender. The moment is one of those cornerstones that winning teams point to when the chips are down, subliminally or not. Nobody is left to regale the stories of Blake Bortles, Wide Receiver U and the heavy-handed defense of the 2013 Fiesta Bowl Season.

UCF is playing with a squad that has no recollection of how to win games that most would think they had no business winning.

Freshman Quarterback McKenzie Milton wasn’t supposed to even see the field this year, but his redshirt was burned on the heels of an injury to incumbent starter Justin Holman. Most saw it as a red flag, but the decision to start an under-prepared 18-year-old quarterback sent a different message to many close to the team — the future is now.

Milton has impressed so far in limited action, taking an absolute beating at times, but still needs to prove that he is a competitor to the end, someone the Knights can trust to both close out the big ones and fight for the close ones.

It has huge implications for recruiting not only in the Sunshine State — where the ominous prospects of the University of Miami, University of South Florida and Florida State University make territory difficult to dominate — but on a national scope.

Frost has done a tremendous job in modernizing, intensifying and personalizing the recruiting efforts of UCF Football and would be able to use this win to add fuel to that fire.

A win for the home team may prolong certain death for the UH 2016 season, but Navy would have to lose three conference games for the Cougars to stay in contention for the AAC Championship. Not only that, but the three losses would have to come against schools that are currently just 6-7 in AAC play. The Cougars overtaking the American West seems highly impossible in any situation.

On the flip side, UCF controls their own destiny. They are only one game back as things stand right now, and the Knights still have games left to play against USF (3-1), Tulane University (0-3), University of Cincinnati (1-3) and the University of Tulsa (2-1). If they can win those and divine intervention hands Temple a loss, we would be talking about UCF in the conference championship game.

Of course, this is all hypothetical. It is more than was expected, more than was hoped for and probably more than is possible. However, if they are able to take a win back to the UCF campus, the time will be ripe to cry contender from the rooftops of Orlando once again.

Tyler Graddy is the sports contributor at KnightNews.com, the University of Central Florida’s student newspaper.

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