Connect with us

American Athletic Conference

American Stories – A Perfect Ending and What Might Have Been

JulieBennett -

Scott Frost could have packed up his bags and left UCF for good when he accepted a the head coaching job at Nebraska, his alma mater, immediately after the American Athletic Conference Championship.

But he wanted to coach his team one last time and help the Knights complete a fairy tale season.

Frost, the consensus national coach of the year in 2017, had enough loyalty to wear two hats through bowl season. The American Athletic Conference champions rewarded Frost and his staff with a perfect 13-0 season, defeating SEC powerhouse Auburn, 34-27, in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl before a crowd of 71,009 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

This was the same Auburn team that defeated both Georgia and Alabama – a pair of College Football Playoff participants – in the regular season.

Maybe now the skeptics will finally come to grips with the fact the American Athletic Conference champion deserves more consideration from the selection committee.

“Whatever they’re serving the selection committee, they need to stop spiking it,” Frost said after Monday’s game, suggesting later the committee made a “conscious effort” to keep the Knights lower in the weekly rankings to avoid putting them in the playoff conversation.

“It’s about the players. It’s always been about the players,” Frost said.  “Our guys deserved to be here. They beat a great team. Auburn has wins over two teams in the playoffs.”

We’ve seen this kind of result before when the champion of The American gets to play under the biggest spotlight. UCF defeated Big 12 champion Baylor, 52-42, in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl and Houston defeated Florida State, 38-24, two years ago in the Peach Bowl.

But this was different. UCF was winless just two years ago before Frost arrived from Oregon, where he had been the Ducks’ offensive coordinator.

“They had nowhere to go but up,” Frost said of the Knights. “I can’t believe how far up they’ve gone.”

The Knights passed every test against Auburn, including on both lines of scrimmages, as they proved they could match the Tigers’ speed and strength.

Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton made believers of us all when he responded from a sluggish first half to finish strong, completing 16 of 35 passes for 242 yards and two second-half touchdowns. He also rushed for a career-high 116 yards and another touchdown and was selected as the offensive player of the game.

After Auburn took a 20-13 lead in the third quarter on a 4-yard run by Kerryon Johnson, Milton threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Otis Anderson to tie the game. Then, Milton, under pressure, gunned an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dredrick Snelson early in the fourth to give the Knights a 27-20 lead.

The Knights’ defense made the big plays down the stretch to keep the outcome under control, much to the joy of the pro-UCF crowd.

All-America linebacker Shaquem Griffin was selected the game’s outstanding defensive player after making 12 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss.

“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” Griffin said. “We came into this game and everybody doubted us.”

Griffin, who is most inspirational story in college football, led a defense that had six sacks and kept Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham off balance at the right times. Stidham threw an interception that safety Chequan Burkett, who grew up 50 miles from the Auburn campus, returned 45 yards for a touchdown with 5:53 to play to send the Knights up 34-20 with 5:53 to play.

Burkett has a wife and two children at home and had to decide whether he wanted to come back for his senior year. But, like the rest of the UCF players, he didn’t want to miss what has turned into a magical moment to everyone in the Central Florida family

Auburn’s Eli Stove had a 7-yard touchdown run with 4:13 to remaining to bring the Tigers within seven. And UCF missed a field goal that would have iced it with 2:38 to play.

Auburn got close on its final possession, but freshman Antwan Collier, who was playing after Kyle Gibson was ejected for targeting, ended the suspense with an interception in the end zone with 24 seconds to play.

From there, it was a matter of taking a knee and counting the seconds until the win was official – for the 13th time.

‘Hey, CFP committee, look at us now,” Griffin said.



Featured On

Recent Posts


More in American Athletic Conference