As Florida's Football Powers Falter, People's Champ UCF the State's Saving Grace

Matt Hayes@matthayescfbSenior National College Football WriterSeptember 12, 2018

McKenzie Milton (10) and the UCF Knights are the top-ranked team in the state of Florida.
McKenzie Milton (10) and the UCF Knights are the top-ranked team in the state of Florida.Associated Press

Florida lost to Kentucky for the first time in 32 years.

Florida State did all it could to fend off and finally beat FCS tomato can Samford.

Miami beat FCS cupcake Savannah State but hasn't beaten an FBS team since before Thanksgiving 2017.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the state of college football in the state of Florida. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

"We've got to execute better," says FSU coach Willie Taggart.

"We have to find a way to get better," says Florida coach Dan Mullen.

Or maybe it's time to start looking elsewhere, toward the only saving grace of football in the Sunshine State: UCF.

That's right, those plucky Knights who have the nation's longest winning streak (15) and had the audacity last year to claim a national title because, well, why the hell not? Why not spend the entire offseason overloading social media with the idea that The People's Champion resides in Orlando, not Tuscaloosa.

The Knights beat Auburn, which beat College Football Playoff national champion Alabama, so, ipso facto, UCF proudly and defiantly raised a championship banner (just play along and ignore the degree of difficulty in the American Athletic Conference).

UCF bested Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap a perfect 2017 season.
UCF bested Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap a perfect 2017 season.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Before everyone gets sideways, let's understand the UCF advertising and marketing genius for what it is: a spot at the Power Five big boy table.

The next problem: The odds of that happening are about as good as the odds of keeping Scott Frost in Orlando.

One Big 12 source told me this summer that UCF has "no shot" at conference membership, that the idea of such a move "isn't even on the table."

So where does The People's Champion go? One of two options:

A) Continue building palatial facilities and winning games, and force itself upon the public narrative (see: claiming the 2017 national championship). If the Knights back up 2017 with another unbeaten season in 2018 and somehow find a spot in the College Football Playoff, maybe the Big 12 starts sniffing around.

B) Hope against hope that Texas and Oklahoma magnanimously agree to add another mouth to feed from the Big 12 trough out of the goodness of their hearts.

"There's no advantage of adding another team," the Big 12 source told me. "There's no value in it. The first question in (expansion) talks is: What value does it bring?"

To recap: UCF has no monetary value to the Big 12, and the Big 12 doesn't need the lure of UCF to recruit the state of Florida.

This leaves UCF with a take-it-or-leave-it third option: Be the best in the state of Florida.

So while the Big Three wallow in their unmistakable misery, UCF continues to thump its chest—a laughable thought all of three years ago when the Knights didn't win a game against that same godawful schedule.

While the UCF train keeps rolling down the track, Florida's Big Three keep stumbling over themselves. Hiring coaches, firing coaches, letting coaches leave for other jobs—all of which plays out on the field.

Kentucky, a basketball school, shoved the ball down the collective throats at Florida for more than 300 yards rushing.

Samford gashed FSU for 525 yards and, were it not for five turnovers, would've beaten the Noles.

Miami has lost its last four games against FBS teams by a combined 129-58.

Miami's struggles in its season opener versus LSU allowed UCF to elevate above the Canes in the AP Top 25.
Miami's struggles in its season opener versus LSU allowed UCF to elevate above the Canes in the AP Top 25.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

"We're telling a story that needs to be told," says UCF athletic director Danny White.

The best way to do it is winning gamesespecially games that matter. To that end, UCF has future home-and-home series with Louisville and Georgia Tech, and it's working to upgrade its non-conference schedule even though the Big Three in Florida want no part of the Knights.

UCF has also added a home-and-home series with Stanford. No, FSU, not Samford. 

"I've always said there's no argument against winning," said new UCF coach Josh Heupel.

More than 30 years ago, Miami won its first national championship in 1983 with a gutsy freshman quarterback (Bernie Kosar) leading a program that five years earlier nearly disbanded.

Since that 1983 championship season, Miami, Florida or Florida State has finished in the top five of the AP Top 25 poll in 26 of those 35 seasons.

Now look at the Big Three. All dressed up with nothing to show for it.

Maybe it's time to start looking somewhere else. 

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