SIDELINE SCENE: UCF's rough start not all doom and gloom
| 3:05 p.m. September 18, 2014
The UCF Knights are 0-2 — and that’s OK.
After a 2013 campaign that saw pretty much every ball bounce the Knights’ way en route to a 12-1 season, a Fiesta Bowl victory and a Top-10 finish in the nation, UCF has come crashing back to Earth in hard-fought losses to Penn State in Ireland to open the season and, most recently, on the road to Missouri on Sept. 13.
With those two losses, any far-fetched hopes of a continuation of the wonders of 2013 went by the wayside — and that’s OK.
Actually, that’s better than OK, it’s probably for the best.
Sure, in an ideal world, the Knights would have at least split their pair of games to open the season. But, when you consider that UCF lived in an ideal world for the entirety of the 2013 season, that, too, is OK.
For starters, when a program that isn’t a traditional powerhouse loses an NFL-level quarterback, as the Knights did with current Jacksonville Jaguars backup Blake Bortles (who will likely supplant start Chad Henne by season’s end), the overwhelming likelihood is that a program will regress.
With that in mind, this season should never have been about contending for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. Full disclosure, I’m a UCF alumnus and would dance naked through the streets if that happened, but I’ve also been following the program long enough to understand the value of tempering expectations.
What the 2014 season should be about for the Knights is three things: Creating a culture of consistent winning, contending for a second consecutive American Athletic Conference championship and identifying a quarterback the program can build around for the next few years.
One of those things may have happened already — the other two are still rather attainable.
Justin Holman, Bortles’ backup from a season ago and the backup entering this season, came off the bench against Penn State and nearly propelled UCF to a come-from-behind victory over the Nittany Lions in Dublin.
Now the starter, Holman showed bright spots in defeat against the Tigers on Saturday, too, and with his mobility, his cannon for an arm and a few glimpses of how he handles pressure situations, he has already given Knights’ fans reason to be excited.
When you talk about a winning, consistent culture, in my mind, you’re talking about a program you can pencil in for at least eight wins every season. That hasn’t been UCF’s modus operandi, traditionally, with the George O’Leary era plagued with good seasons followed by bad.
That may be changing, though. In 2012, the Knights won 10 games — including a bowl win over Ball State in the St. Pete Bowl. We’ve already discussed the 2013 season, what with all its heart-stopping glory.
If UCF can win eight to 10 games this season, including a possible bowl win, it would mark three consecutive winning seasons for the program — an unprecedented accomplishment for this program at this level and the type of thing that will go a long way toward showing 2013 wasn’t a flash in the pan but rather the breakout season for a program on the rise.
Part of building that culture of winning would include contending for — and ideally winning — the AAC championship for a second year in-a-row.
The AAC is, so far at least, unimpressive this season. If you exclude East Carolina’s impressive upset over Virginia Tech this past weekend, the conference is mired in mediocrity, and it will be important for the Knights to establish themselves as a standard-bearer for the league. With UCF’s first conference game, an Oct. 2 showdown with Houston, still a few weeks away, the Knights have ample time to address some of their issues before the games start to count on an elevated level.
UCF should win its home-opener at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, against Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats are a good FCS-level program, but the Knights should win and get that first “W” in the books for the 2014 season.
Following Saturday’s contest, if you look at UCF’s schedule the rest of the way, seven of the next 10 games fall into the should-win category. The exceptions — at home against BYU on Oct. 9 and on the road against East Carolina on Dec. 4 — will give the Knights two chances to redeem themselves for the two losses already on the books.
And if, entering the week of that regular season-finale against the Pirates, UCF finds itself in contention for a conference title and seeking its eighth or ninth win, we’ll likely have forgotten about the 0-2 start to the campaign — and that’s more than OK.
Weekly Football Contest-talk: Hello there, mediocrity
Depending on the context, that rate of success could mean several things. In baseball, I’d be a transcendent superstar if I batted .500. In basketball, I’d be pretty good if I shot 50% from the field. In football, were I a quarterback, fans would start chanting for the backup.
In the world of picking football winners, though, 50% is straight-up mediocrity. Average. There’s probably an animal of some sort somewhere that could do a better job.
The results of last week’s Weekly Football Contest have me feeling a bit humbled — and determined to right the ship this week.
Congratulations to Sheila Kendall for winning this week’s contest and good luck to everyone this week.