The defending national champions are coming up to East Hartford for UConn football’s season opener. To get the inside scoop on the UCF Knights, we talked to Jeff Sharon of Black & Gold Banneret, SB Nation’s new UCF-centric blog.
You can check our answers to their questions here.
1. How do UCF fans in general view the ConFLiCT and have you seen this video?
In general, I think there are two camps in UCF Fandom about the ConFLiCT: (1) “This is a total joke, there’s no rivalry, stop bothering us,” and (2) “Whatever, do what you have to do, we’ll beat you anyway.” It’s interesting that this whole saga took quite a turn with the UCF fan base when Scott Frost and his 2016 team elected to leave the trophy behind. It was, to put it in the words of one fan I know, “The bossest of moves.” In a way, that’s reignited interest in it, but much of it is satirical in nature.
As far as the video, yes, I’ve seen it. It’s one of the most nuts things I’ve heard a coach say. How is it that Bob Diaco, who came up with the whole idea of trying to make UCF and UConn a trophy game by himself, can then say,”I really don’t understand why the scrutiny would be on me”? Thank goodness for UConn’s program you have moved on from him.
2. What are your feelings on Josh Heupel’s hiring?
There’s a lot more excitement around Heupel than maybe one would have thought coming off of Scott Frost. Heupel has a tough act to follow, of course, but the similarities are evident: Both are former Big XII quarterbacks who captained their teams to national titles, both are former offensive coordinators of high-octane offenses, and both are young guys coming in their first head coaching jobs at UCF.
But that’s where the similarities end. Where Frost was the Golden Boy straight out of Central Casting, Heupel has fought and scraped and clawed every step of the way along his playing and now coaching career. He knows what it’s like to not be taken seriously and has the chip on his shoulder that embodies what this team should be about coming off a 13-0 national championship year. That’s exactly what this team needed: A guy who can show this team what it’s like to still be doubted even after you’ve succeeded.
Also, don’t sleep on the hiring of Randy Shannon as defensive coordinator. They’ve let him be on his own island to run the defense and recruit, and he has big-time credibility with kids in Florida.
3. Do you think UCF went overboard with the 2017 national champions claim with the banner, t-shirts, etc.?
Hold up - Didn’t you see the NCAA Record Book?
Truthfully, absolutely not. It was a brilliant move in three key ways:
1. Nobody likes Alabama so there was a ready-made audience for someone who could punch up at the SEC’s perceived dominance.
2. It’s brilliant marketing and branding for UCF. We spent years just trying to get people to not call us “Central Florida.” Now when you go anywhere outside of Orlando, and you’re wearing a UCF shirt or hat, someone inevitably comes up to you and says, “National Champs!”
3. This is a stroke of genius in exposing the cartel that is the so-called Power Five conferences. Remember, we don’t have a playoff - we have a four-team BCS with an even less-accountable selection process. There are 130 teams in FBS, but according to this system only 65 - half - are really eligible to play for the crown. That’s baloney and everyone knows it. If you’re an FBS school, you deserve just as good a shot as everyone else. Otherwise, half of major college football schools are second-class citizens. So UCF A.D. Danny White decided to call it out, and lo and behold, it worked.
I wish the other non-AQ schools would jump on board the bandwagon, because I view this as part of a larger fight for financial and competitive survival for the other 65 non-AQ schools. And frankly, if another non-AQ team goes undefeated this year and doesn’t get a CFP bid, be it Boise State, UConn or whomever, they should claim a national title too, and I’d bet UCF would back them up on it. After all, how would we know how they would do against the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world if you don’t give them at least a shot?
Speaking of which, I’ll trade you a National Champions t-shirt for one of those ConFliCT milk carton t-shirts. Deal?
4. Why do you think this game was pulled up to be the season opener?
That’s a good question. Of course, the primary reason is TV and the American wants to get themselves on national TV as much as possible. Add to that the fact that UCF is coming off of an undefeated year, and we’re heading into a TV contract year for the American, and now the league - and UCF - have a shot at getting maximum eyeballs at a critical time. If this game rates well, even though it’s on ESPNU, that’s good for the American
5. What are realistic expectations for UCF this season?
Realistic expectations are pretty high because of quarterback McKenzie Milton. Since 1985, UCF is only the third non-AQ conference team to go undefeated one year and replace its coach the next (Tulane in 1998 and Utah in 2004 are the others). But unlike those other two, UCF does retain its quarterback, and when you have a guy who re-wrote the school record book in the fashion Milton did in 2017, you have a shot in every game.
I think UCF has a greater-than-50 percent chance to beat every team on its schedule. Now, I do think the chances of UCF going undefeated again are minuscule, but not zero. That said, UCF should win 9-10 games and at least contend for the East Division, and then it will come down to the War on I-4 at USF on Black Friday and AAC Championship once again. After that, it depends on what Boise State or someone else in the non-AQ pool does in the rankings.
6. How are you feeling about this upcoming basketball season?
REALLY good for the first time in a long time. UCF should finally have Tacko Fall and B.J. Taylor back on the floor together after a rash of injuries, and they will both be playing with Aubrey Dawkins (Johnny’s son), who is a remarkable talent and also sat out all of last year after an injury of his own. That’s three legit NBA prospects heading into 2018-2019. UCF hasn’t won a conference title in men’s hoops since it won back-to-back championships in its final two seasons in the Atlantic Sun Conference some 13 years ago, and Knights fans are itching for a contender. It should be a really fun year.