December 2, 2017, was quite possibly the best day and one of the saddest days in UCF sports history. After a thrilling two-overtime game, UCF won the American Athletic Conference football championship at Spectrum Stadium. Then less than an hour later AD Danny White announced that head coach Scott Frost was leaving UCF to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Nebraska.
The departure to Nebraska was not a surprise--Nebraska's AD had previously name-checked Coach Frost when talking about the search for a new head coach, rumors had been circulating for weeks about a potential high-dollar contract for taking the job, and Scott Frost has not only talked glowingly about the mentorship he had under his head coach at Nebraska, Tom Osborne, but he also invited Osborne to speak at the preseason Kickoff Luncheon in August of 2017. Scott Frost is a very loyal man--loyal to his roots and his family (his parents still live in Nebraska)--and loyal to his mentors. Hours after the news broke, we also learned that his loyalty extends to his players. While UCF has named Troy Walters the Interim Head Coach (in charge of day-to-day operations), Scott Frost has committed to Danny White and his players that he will coach UCF in the bowl game that they have earned an invitation to play so he can try to help them complete a feat no other team in the NCAA can claim: completing a perfect season this year.
And Then There Was One
It's pretty remarkable what Scott Frost accomplished in two years at UCF--and he (rightly in my mind) gives all the credit to his players. Even after a 0-12 season, Scott Frost kept most of George O'Leary's players on the roster and even elevated several of them to starting roles (such as the incredible one-handed Shaquem Griffin). Fully 51 of the players on the 0-12 roster in 2015 just completed a 12-0 season in 2017, proving that even if O'Leary hadn't been able to help motivate his players to give their best effort in his final season, he had recruited solid talent to the roster. I suspect that the common thread between the two coaches is recruiting coachable players--players who have great talent but are hungry to learn how they can get even better, and respond when asked to try a new technique or complete a new drill by a coach.
After all the Conference Championships were played on December 2, UCF remained the only undefeated team in the country, as Ohio State proved the conventional wisdom was correct about the untested weaknesses in Wisconsin's team and won the Big 10 Championship. One by one, fans around the country saw the number of undefeated teams get whittled down: Clemson lost, Alabama lost, Miami lost, and finally, Wisconsin lost.
Undefeated Doesn't Mean Perfect
Now I will be among the first to admit that undefeated does not mean perfect. The last few successive opponents have really tested UCF's defense, and ever since the Austin Peay game in November, it seems nearly every team has found a way to score more points against the Knights. All of us who are fans that have watched UCF all season have seen the blown coverages and bad tackling, and it's clear that every offensive coordinator we have faced has also studied the tape and planned to exploit those weaknesses.
In the first six games of the season prior to facing Austin Peay, UCF gave up 105 total points or 17.5 points per game. In the last six games (from Austin Peay through the Conference Championship), UCF gave up 200 total points, or over 33 points per game, nearly doubling the offensive output of their opponents. Granted, the last two opponents UCF faced: USF and Memphis, are two of the highest scoring offenses in the country. Nonetheless, the conventional wisdom is that defenses win championships, and in the other Conference Championship games played on December 2, it was clear that the team controlling the line of scrimmage won the game: Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia all dominated their opponents on the line and won by wide margins. Ohio State missed a lot of opportunities to score and outlasted Wisconsin. Similarly, UCF committed 4 turnovers in their game against Memphis, literally giving the ball to the Tigers in the End Zone or inside the five-yard line twice, and three of those turnovers became scores for Memphis. So UCF and Ohio State both could have scored more points and won by wider margins with better-executed games.
Now UCF has to play the waiting game to see who they will face in a bowl game, and which bowl they will be selected. Most fans hope for the Peach Bowl due to proximity, but there's no guarantee that will happen. Let's hope that the ride continues for one more game and that UCF will indeed be able to #ChargeOn to complete the perfect season!