Last time around, the Knights handedly broke the reign of Florida State, Florida, and Miami as the highest competitors in the Sunshine State.
Miami walked alongside UCF through much of the 2017 season as one of the few remaining undefeated teams left in college football. An upset against Pitt took that away and the Hurricanes haven’t won a game since.
The Associated Press favored Miami nonetheless and perched the South Florida team at No. 8 on the preseason poll. Eleven spots down sat Florida State, who rallied with the rumored success head coach Willie Taggart would bring while Deondre Francois returned from a 2017 season-ending injury. The Seminoles finished 2017 7-6 and 3-5 in the ACC after Francois left to recover.
On Sunday in Louisiana, LSU would hold head coach Mark Richt to one field goal for three quarters and two touchdowns against a comforted LSU defense in the fourth to eliminate 14 points from a 30-point deficit. The same night, Florida State entered Doak-Cambell with the crowd wrapped in their hands as Taggert later led the team unsuccessfully with only a field goal to boot. It would hopefully be their worst work for 2018 – missed chip-in field goal, a punt returned for a VT touchdown just yards from the end zone, negative or no yards gained, and poor playcalling characterize the offensive shutdown LSU forced on the team.
Both teams learned difficult lessons in week one and face an uphill battle to break the top 20 again.
The Knights, playing a weak conference opponent, raised two spots in the AP Poll, an unsatisfactory improvement to fans of course but an easy-to-swallow pill.
Returning UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton beat his 2017 game-average 49.5pts Thursday with 56 laid down on the UConn defense in East Hartford, one score greater than the performance in Orlando that ended 49-24 last time around.
Both Florida and the Bulls made quick work of their week one FCS opponents: Florida with a blowout win 53-6 over Charleston Southern and USF with a closer win over Elon 34-14.
While Florida will attempt to recover strong, their 4-7 season in tow, the Bulls will look to fill the shoes of Quinton Flowers, who singlehandedly overcame UCF in and out of the the War on I-4 rivalry in November racking up over six hundred yards of offense alone in an already impressive season. Blake Barnett crisply brought USF in the green but Flowers is the bar.
If there is any doubt, Charlie Strong, who has faith in Barnett but does not see a finished product just yet: “He’s what, 20 practices into fall camp?” Strong said following a victory on Saturday. “You know he has the ability because he would’ve never been who he was, being the elite quarterback and everything. But to watch him come out tonight and play well, it’s good for his confidence. And it’s good for the whole team because now the whole team sees their quarterback.”
“I mean, he’s not [Flowers] now,” Strong said. “But he can make the throws for us and get us in the right plays.”
When a head coach leaves a winning team a recovery year follows. Heupel met expectations for game one. SCS State (0-1), the Knights next opponent, will likely meet the same fate, as will UNC by a smaller margin given the performance of the Tar Heels (0-1) over the years.
Florida Atlantic, Pitt, SMU, and Memphis will give UCF trouble as the next in line, but for now, fanatics can enjoy the Knights as the best team in Florida – Power 5 or not.