Walt Disney World claims it is "the Happiest Place on Earth." But another patch of ground in The City Beautiful has been making a strong claim to that place in the last few months: Spectrum Stadium on the campus of UCF. Since August 31, all Scott Frost and the UCF Knights have done is build a perfect 10 - 0 record. Along the way, they have racked up some impressive statistics.
UCF leads the nation in scoring. UCF has been among the Top 25 teams in defense all season. UCF has maintained among the most efficient quarterback ratings in all college football. And UCF has been getting production from many players: 11 different players have scored rushing touchdowns and 10 different players have caught touchdown passes. What's more, six different freshmen and four sophomores have scored for UCF so far this season, revealing a depth at skill players that make even coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Nick Saban drool with envy.
Whaddya Mean, Little UCF?
Now wait a second, I hear you say. We are talking about "little UCF," aren't we? That school that doesn't play in one of the Power 5 conferences over there on the east side of Orlando? That school which started life in 1963 as FTU and then changed its name to UCF in the late 1970s? That school that most people outside Orlando (and even many in the city limits) didn't realize even had a football team until 1996 when Daunte Culpepper showed up on campus?
Yes, numbskulls--we are talking about that UCF. And the first notion you need to disabuse yourself of is thinking of the school as "little." There is nothing small about the school. UCF boasts one of the largest total enrollments in the country: over 64,000 undergraduates; more than 58,000 of those are on the main campus. The university has a massive campus of nearly 2,000 acres that sprawls at the eastern edge of Orlando. And the Research Parkway area south of campus has made UCF one of the largest partnership universities in the nation. UCF is a leader in research and production with private for-profit companies in everything from simulation and training for military personnel and defense contractors to biomedical engineering of 3D-printed prosthetic limbs for amputees. So forget small.
But how has UCF managed to turn what was once a sleepy, unknown program from outside the Power conferences into one of the best teams in the country? The answer comes from the vision of two men: Athletic Director Danny White and Head Football Coach Scott Frost. These two are having the same impact on the NCAA in 2017 that Larry Page and Sergey Brin had in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. And there's no reason to believe, like Page and Brin before them, that White and Frost can't turn the place they've landed into a powerhouse that dominates college sports in the same way that Google dominates the Internet.
And this is exactly what scares the snot out of sad devotees of bygone college sports powerhouses from Gainesville to Lincoln to Eugene. They are afraid--very afraid--that one day the rest of the world is going to wake up to the realization that White and Frost seem to already understand. The AD and Coach are visionaries who realize that you don't need a Power 5 conference affiliation and 100 years of tradition to win national championships and dominate college sports. All you need is great coaching, good recruiting, and players who understand that team success means accolades for all the players.
While nothing is guaranteed and UCF's biggest challenge remains the next game on the schedule, you can say that for fans and players alike, Spectrum Stadium is about the Happiest Place on Earth these days.