by Jordan Beeker and Isiah Martin
Last fall was a historic season for the UCF Knights, as they accomplished the unthinkable and finished the season as the only undefeated college football team. To label their success a “Cinderella Story” would be an understatement. After two years of unsuccessful campaigns in their regular seasons, UCF, with the help of Scott Frost and his coaching staff, dominated the realm of college football and achieved what people thought impossible. But that dream season produced something much larger than just an impressive record. What emerged was a statement about what can be achieved through determination, hard work, and the proper mindset.
For a team that boasted a meager 6-7 record and an even lousier 0-12 record in the two previous years, last year meant much more to not only the players, but also the UCF students. Many of thought the Knights had much to prove in the wake of their latter performances. However, with each game, the 2017 team exhibited a calm and resilience, which many of their opponents rarely portrayed under the same amount of pressure. Rod Sylvestre, a UCF defensive back from that season, explained that the key in his team’s crusade for victory came from everyone’s ability to keep one another accountable. “I would say that leadership and accountability were the greatest parts about our success. We wanted to make sure that we weren’t cheating ourselves… and by holding player-led meetings, we were able to address whatever issues happened to be [circulating] within the team at the time.”
As a red-shirt junior, Rod has seen the team function at its worse, as well as its best.He cites “discord” as the biggest reason for the team’s undoing. “I would say that at the time everyone was divided and argued, whereas this team that went undefeated loved and cared for one another as brothers.” It is clear to see that prior to any major achievement, specific mindsets and strategies are needed, and thanks to the implementation of new systems by Coach Frost, as well as the player’s talent and work ethic, the nation was able to witness something many athletes never experience in their lifetimes.
Unfortunately, we may never see Scott Frost from the sidelines leading our UCF Knights ever again, but rest assured the confidence of the players has not faltered in the wake of this transition to current coach, Josh Heupel. Josh Kelly, another player on the team, explains that “Coach Heupel is an incredible coach, and already within the short time that he’s been here at UCF, I can tell he’s forming a strong bond with all the players and coaching staff. Personally, I try to talk to him every chance I get, not just about football related topics, but anything in general because I love picking his brain and seeing his viewpoint on things. He has such a great [attitude] and always gives great advice whenever I need it. My expectation this year is that we continue our undefeated streak and go two straight years without taking a loss.
Many people are wondering if the Knights will be able to fabricate such a season once again, especially under the new regime of Coach Heupel. Although this is one of many concerns moving into a new season, the latest success of our undefeated record carries with it many implications about UCF as a whole. The atmosphere has changed, and the achievement generated by the football program has spurred an attitude shift. Students now expect excellence from themselves and the rest of the student body.
However, reactions from outside of UCF are mixed. Many analysts and opposing coaches are skeptical about UCF’s success, while others think the Knights should have been rewarded with their first ever playoff berth. These analysts and coaches believe the ranking system is unfair. Coach Frost is included in these pool of coaches and has stated that the “Committee seemed to make [a] conscious effort to keep UCF low in playoff rankings.” The frustration seems to be warranted. Our school went undefeated, won our conference championship, defeated a nationally respected team in one of the most prestigious bowl games, and finished in the top ten of the nation’s AP Poll alongside high caliber teams such as current national champions, Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Auburn, whom we defeated. Yet, the omission from the playoffs brings into question whether or not upcoming schools, such as UCF will ever be considered for future deliberation. Some of the reasons for why people think UCF has been left out of playoff contention, include a relatively weak strength of schedule, a recent history of many defeats, and the belief that other schools with one loss and stronger schedules were more deserving of a playoff spot.
Players like Josh and Rod believe that the committee does show unfair bias towards Power five teams, and with a playoff system, which only allows four teams to compete against one another, it’s hard to imagine UCF or any other non-Power five school receiving a shot at the championship title.
In the midst of this raging debate, Danny White, UCF’s athletic director, came up with the ingenious marketing scheme to dub UCF the “National Champions” after their playoff snub. The tactic has garnered much support from many schools and individuals who are tired of seeing the same teams, like Alabama and Clemson, in the playoffs repeatedly. This calculated decision speaks volumes about our view of our school since UCF has been considered an underdog in college football as long anyone can remember. The last time the school was able to crack the top ten was four years ago, when Blake Bortles spearheaded the Knights to an impressive 12-1 record. That team even won that year’s Fiesta Bowl over favorites, the Baylor Bears.
Ultimately, the Knights have been through many a trial and tribulation to arrive at where they are today. The tragic memories of 2015’s sorrowful season are still vivid, and although bars like The Basement have ceased promotions like “free beer until UCF wins a game,” the Knights are determined to stay grounded, always remembering where they came from as they move forward, now as an elite program. The reversal of this team’s performance just proves that no matter how the odds are stacked against you, the spectacular is conceivable with hard work and dedication. UCF made the impossible, possible, and the same can be true for you.