Sports Editor

UCF GameDay

Crowds with their signs hoisted in anticipation of ESPN's College GameDay, a full hour before the broadcast began.

UCF Knights have come a long way; I’ve seen it

I get it — Osceola County is still Gator Country.

The reaction in this ATG territory (All Things Gainesville) to ESPN’s College GameDay airing its weekly show this morning live from UCF in Orlando — one county, 25 miles and just over a half-hour away — is mostly, “Well, that’s nice.”

I get you readers would rather hear about the Gators and their SEC opponents in this space rather than what UCF has accomplished over the last two seasons. I want to bring you what you want even though UCF is my alma mater and is close to my heart.

I get that an SEC schedule and an American Athletic Conference schedule are (often) worlds apart.

Winning, however, is winning. Obviously I’m not the only one who gets it. So don’t look at me — I didn’t invite ESPN to come to UCF this morning and bring its huge College GameDay set to town.

Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and — everyone’s favorite — Lee Corso invited themselves. Maybe Lou Holtz will drop by. I heard he gets his haircut in Hunter’s Creek.

I’m guessing some people will tune in to see if UCF and Cincinnati really elite, or any good. Are they? Who knows. The pundits say both team’s biggest win thus far this year is against Temple, but how good is Temple?

I know this isn’t Florida-Georgia. Or Ohio State-Michigan. Or Alabama-anybody. But they’re here. And while I hope UCF whips up on Cincinnati, the fact that ESPN is in town and that ABC is televising the game in its primo 8 p.m. national time slot means somebody recognizes that they’ve done something to earn this.

I have a buddy who swears that ESPN is doing this to set up UCF for a great fall so it can ridicule the Knight Nation about its national championship claims last year and quiet all the claims … articles … tweets, re-tweets, tweet replies … for respect and legitimacy. But if UCF wasn’t already legitimate, would ABC be here.

It’s like if your kid strikes out in the last inning of the big Little League game. At least you can turn to the parent next to you and go, “So where was your kid right there?”

And I’ve seen the kid grow up. I started UCF as a student in 1993. UCF had just moved up from Division II and were just becoming a Division I-AA (now the FCS) power. The team was good among the company it kept, but everybody secretly had “a real college team” they rooted for, either Florida, Florida State, Miami or some northern school from their hometown. Those Golden Knights would draw crowds of barely 20,000 in the cavernous Citrus Bowl, driving across town from campus to get there, so it was barely a quarter full — and kinda depressing.

When UCF President John Hitt spoke of moving to Division I ball, I mocked it. The Knights were poised to win I-AA national championships and I wanted to see fans tear down the goalposts. But they’ve pressed on.

UCF has paid its dues through Division III, II, I-AA, D-I independent, the MAC, Conference USA and now the American. I’ve seen a lot of that. Ask me along that trail if UCF would ever reach the national stage and I would have laughed.

But then it’s achieved some of these great moments, the Mighty News-Gazette Divine Nine Knights Memories:

1. Peach Bowl win (Jan. 1, 2018). 2. Fiesta Bowl win (Jan. 1, 2014). 3. Defeating Louisville to set up an unplanned BCS run (Oct. 18, 2013). 4. Beating Penn State (Sept. 14, 2013). 5. Beating Alabama (Oct. 28, 2000). 6. Beating Houston, nine years ago to the day Wednesday for first win over a ranked opponent. 7. Beating Marshall in 2005 to end a 17-game losing streak; fans tore down the goalpost. 8. Hosting South Carolina in 2013, first ABC game in school history. 9. Watching Daunte Culpepper run over Nebraska linebackers as Knights led Cornhuskers at halftime in Lincoln (1998).

Enough nostalgia. Now on to the Picks of the Weak:

Cincinnati at UCF (-7.5): Where else to start? How about the game I’ve been the most nervous about in a long time, forget those listed in the Top 9. Teams historically suffer a defensive letdown after playing Navy’s triple option. They ran for 374 yards, nine days after “vaunted Temple” put up 677 total yards. Knights are better on paper. They’ll have to outscore the Bearcats. Means no turnovers. Means moving the ball like usual. Means not getting stopped and getting a couple defensive stops themselves. Winner goes to the AAC title game and probably a big New Year’s bowl game. I hope I’ve just released the script. Knights. Just … Knights.

Idaho at Florida (-39.5): And then this. Really? Gators by eleventy million.

Boston College (-1.5) at Florida State: Closest thing ‘Noles will get to a bowl game this year. Because lose today and Coach Taggart and the boys are home for the holidays. Eagles by 6.

Syracuse vs. Notre Dame (-10) at Yankee Stadium: The other big game of the day. Many wanted GameDay to go there today. But it’s gonna be cold, and Lee Corso isn’t putting Frosty the Snowman’s head on at noon. Irish by 7.

Iowa State at Texas (-2.5): The Cyclones? Ranked and against Texas? If I can believe what UCF is doing, I can believe this … Cyclones by 3 in “GameDay Can Go To Ames Next” Upset Special.

The paid professionals:

Tampa Bay at N.Y. Giants (-1): Bad, bad ball we have to watch. Or do we? Giants by 7 while I mow the lawn.

Pittsburgh (-5.5) at Jacksonville: This would be better if Steelers didn’t want so much revenge for last year’s playoff game. Steelers by 14.

Houston (-3) at Washington: Two 6-3 teams. Now this is NFL ball. Texans by 4.

Minnesota at Chicago (-2.5): Ditto, with a little bit of historical hate. Vikings by 3 in Chilly Upset Special.

Kansas City at L.A. Rams (-3.5): Great Monday night matchup between QBs drafted last year on 9-1 teams. Chiefs by 3 in Pat Mahomes Comes in Clutch Upset Special.

Petey “The Gators Are Going To Win” Covino says: Gators by 27. Then he told me to rent a truck to bring home all my swag from College GameDay.

Brian “Big Man” McBride’s Super Sniffer of the Week: Lions by 3 over Carolina.