ORLANDO, Fla. — With College GameDay in town and a national television audience tuned in, No. 11 UCF delivered its best performance of the season, dominating No. 24 Cincinnati 38-13 on Saturday night in front of the second-largest crowd in school history.
But will it be enough to boost the Knights when the next College Football Playoff selection committee rankings come out?
“We’ll find out come Tuesday, right?” quarterback McKenzie Milton said afterward.
UCF certainly made its case once again, winning its 23rd straight game while also clinching the American Athletic Conference East division and home-field advantage in the conference championship game Dec. 1. But what happened Saturday felt different, and it all started with a first-ever appearance on College GameDay.
Students camped out overnight to set up tents and ensure their front-row spots for the live television show. Once the morning began, thousands of people and signs as far as the eye could see filled the central part of campus, known as Memory Mall. UCF felt it was their opportunity to showcase their school to a national audience, to clue the rest of the nation into what is actually happening here in Orlando.
“I think it’s the first time most of the people have gotten a chance to see what our university is all about, the size of it, the energy the passion from our fan base, what a game-day atmosphere looks like inside of our stadium,” coach Josh Heupel said. “This is big-time football. We’ve got great players on the field. I think everybody saw that tonight, and again we’ve got an opportunity to go 1-0 and add another tally to our season, and hopefully people enjoyed what they saw.”
Players certainly enjoyed watching the show from their hotel rooms in Orlando, most especially when Lee Corso picked UCF to win.
“To wake up in the morning, you dream that as a kid,” defensive tackle Joey Connors said. “Turning the TV on, seeing it’s in Orlando on UCF’s campus on Memory Mall, that was unreal. When Lee Corso picked the Knights, the whole hallway erupted. We were out there celebrating in the hallway. It was a cool moment for us.”
Players understood clearly all eyes would be on them later in the evening when they played Cincinnati, the best team it has faced to date. UCF had 47,795 fans pack into Spectrum Stadium and before kickoff, the press box started swaying as the crowd stood and jumped.
The noise rattled Cincinnati, which was called for a delay of game and false start before getting off its first snap, and then had more procedure penalties throughout the game because it was so loud.
“Seeing the guard, every play tap his center because he can’t hear his quarterback, that was a big thing for us,” said defensive end Titus Davis, who had three sacks and a forced fumble. “Having our fans come out the way they did, it was awesome.”
UCF’s defense, which had taken its share of criticism for giving up large chunks of yards throughout the season, played its most complete game and ended up with four sacks, seven tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Heupel wasn’t ready to say whether this was the type of performance UCF needed on the national stage, but pointed to everything the program has going for it.
“This is the most unique story in college football because it’s in the thrust of continuing to build what it’s going to be,” Heupel said. “Blue blood programs were built in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. We’re right in the midst of what’s going on here, and really proud of the way our fans have shown out all year long but certainly today as well.”
The win gives UCF its first over a ranked team, though Cincinnati most likely will drop out of the poll Tuesday. Whether it was a big enough win for UCF to make any headway in the rankings is up for debate.
“I think our conference is a very good conference,” quarterback McKenzie Milton said. “I think there’s very good teams from top to bottom. I think not only as a program we feel slighted, as a whole conference we kind of feel slighted.”