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American Athletic Conference

American Stories – UCF Making Push For The Playoff

Mark Zaleski - Associated Press

Slowly, but surely, UCF is climbing into the College Football Playoff conversation.

The Knights (6-0), who rallied to defeat Memphis, 31-30, at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium Saturday have won 19 straight games and are now a solid top-10 team, checking in again at 10 in the Associated Press poll.

Given the events of a crazy weekend, they probably should be ranked higher.

The Knights are making themselves impossible to ignore when the CFP selection committee begins its discussions at the end of the month.

UCF has been involved in five of the league’s most entertaining games in its brief history. The Knights defeated Baylor, 52-42, in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl; USF, 49-42, in their final regular-season game in 2017; Memphis, 62-55, in double overtime to win the 2017 American Championship; and Auburn, 34-27, in the 2018 Peach Bowl to complete a 13-0 season; and now this.

The Knights have used those ABC and ESPN games to create for a great informercial for The American, which has cast itself as a Power 6 conference.

None of the aforementioned games had the sense of desperation like this year’s Memphis game. The Knights, who fell behind 30-17, at halftime, needed to pitch a defensive shutout in the second half to keep the longest winning streak in the country alive in a persistent rainstorm that started at halftime and never let up.

“We want to be a great team,” Knights’ quarterback McKenzie Milton said. “And great teams win great games. I love these guys.”

Milton, a Heisman Trophy candidate, completed 17 of 29 passes for 296 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown, but he was also sacked four times and never got his footing. But, Milton was there when the Knights needed him, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a 7-yard run to cap a 74-yard drive with 12:14 left in the fourth quarter.

“Down multiple scores, it hasn’t gone perfect the entire day, you come out after halftime and the rain is pouring down,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said. “But he’s the ultimate competitor. Ultimate team guy. Smart. competitive. Great leader.

“Our guys feed off him.”

This was the toughest game of the season for the Knights, who defeated their first five opponents by double figures but were almost done in with self-inflicted wounds — 12 penalties — and an uncharacteristic lack of execution with only two conversions on 12 third down situations.

UCF may still be unbeaten, but its remaining schedule ends with two of the other seven unbeaten teams in college football. A Nov. 17 home game against No. 20/21 Cincinnati and a Nov. 23 trip to Tampa to face USF in the War On I-4.

It’s hard to go undefeated. There are only eight unbeaten teams remaining in the FBS. The American is the only conference in the nation with three (UCF, Cincinnati, USF). The rest of the list consists of Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Notre Dame, and North Carolina State. That’s it

Georgia, which had been ranked No. 2, lost some of its luster after a loss to LSU. No. 6 West Virginia lost to Iowa State, 30-14. And Notre Dame was challenged in a 19-14 victory over Pitt, a team that UCF had defeated by 31 points earlier in the year.

The American is indeed a conference on the rise.

But there is no room for error if UCF wants consideration for one of four College Football Playoff slots.

“What UCF did last season raised the profile of the league enormously and I think it shed light on us,” American commissioner Mike Aresco said. “It is always important to have those one or two teams that really stand out. People judge you by your best teams and there’s no question that UCF has generated a lot of exposure and attention to the league. They’ve become a brand nationally and they’ve helped the league become a brand nationally.”

When UCF completed its perfect season last year with the win against Auburn, athletics director Danny White proclaimed his team as national champions, a claim that was later reinforced when the Knights finished atop the Colley Matrix (one of the components of the former Bowl Championship Series rankings) and were listed as such in the NCAA Football Records. The team celebrated with a parade at Walt Disney World, hung a national championship banner in Spectrum Stadium, gave out national championship rings and paid the coaching staff contracted bonuses.

We can only imagine the debate that will ensue throughout college football this year if UCF is unbeaten headed into November.



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