OPINION: UCF was never a Cinderella by its own doing

UCF could have been a college football Cinderella, but ultimately wasn’t. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

The clock strikes midnight.

The carriage turns back into a pumpkin.

Cinderella is nowhere to be found, though — mainly because there never was one in Orlando outside of the Magic Kingdom.

In what was the biggest upset of the weekend, Pitt defeated UCF 35-34 on Saturday thanks to a near-last second usage of the ‘Philly Special’ — a play that first received attention when the Philadelphia Eagles ran it before halftime during Super Bowl LII.

What a way for the Knights’ 25-game regular-season win streak to finally be snapped.

The last time UCF lost a regular-season game prior to Saturday was Black Friday 2016 against USF — which also turned out to be Willie Taggart’s last game as coach of the Bulls.

Such simpler times.

During that streak, UCF’s highest ranking in the College Football Playoff (CFP) was No. 8, which feels lower than it should have been, considering the Knights hadn’t lost a regular-season game in over two years. 

UCF was a figurative underdog for most — well, really all — of its streak.

But nobody outside of Orlando woke up Sunday feeling sorry for the Knights, even though college football is a sport that loves underdogs and general chaos.

While UCF continued to be ranked lower than it should have been by the CFP, something that should have garnered sympathy — even from USF fans — UCF administration picked the most antagonizing and annoying ways to fight the status quo.

UCF Athletic Director Danny White declared the Knights “national champions” after winning the 2018 Peach Bowl, launching the long national — well, maybe more regional — nightmare of such assorted horrors as “national champion” license plates.

The faux championship wasn’t even that faux, considering White was later backed up by the Colley Matrix — a computer poll that was used in the now-defunct Bowl Championship Series rankings — selecting UCF as its No. 1 at the end of the season. The Colley Matrix is far from the most reliable poll, but boy, did UCF fans let you know it was real if you criticized them for claiming a national championship. 

The Knights’ weak nonconference schedule was frequently cited as a reason why they were kept out of the Playoff  — and with valid reason. UCF’s 2019 nonconference slate consisted of Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, Stanford and Pitt. The Knights ran all over the former three and should have ran over Pitt as well, regardless of the Panthers’ Power Five status.

While War on I-4 rival USF spent the summer loading up with top-tier nonconference games — including a series with Alabama and Miami in addition to an existing series with Florida — White criticized what USF was doing because the Bulls were signing two-for-ones — two games at their place and one at your stadium.

It’s a precedent I don’t like being set in our conference for schools to start doing a lot higher volume of two-for-ones,” White said in an interview on Orlando’s WYGM-AM over the summer.

White also compared the CFP to a monopoly in emails with Florida Athletic Director Scott Strickland after the latter rejected White’s offer for a home-and-home series, according to emails obtained by the Orlando Sentinel late last year.

Without the Gators lined up, the best future nonconference game on UCF’s schedule appears to be a home-and-home with Louisville, which starts in 2021. The Knights also play Georgia Tech and North Carolina next year, which could go either way in helping their strength of schedule. Either way, they needed Florida more than the Gators needed them.

Meanwhile, UCF fans were doing what fans of any team do — feeding off the vibe given from the team and administration and then taking it to the next level because — well, that’s what fans do. Considering White’s approach in telling it how he saw it, imagine how the UCF Twitter Mafia, as they call themselves, responded to those who criticized the Knights.

It wasn’t a recipe designed for sympathy outside of Orange County.

UCF was never a Cinderella story because of this and so much more — which makes it hard to feel sorry about the clock striking midnight and the carriage turning back into a pumpkin.

And make no mistake, it has. UCF’s season — at least as far as its primary goal of finally making the Playoff  — is over, even though the Knights are still ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls.

The CFP had it out for UCF already and was likely looking forward to the day the Knights lost again. That loss coming against an average-at-best Pitt team makes it all the more likely UCF is absent from the first CFP ranking on Nov. 5. 

At the very least, the Knights won’t be nearly as high as they hoped to be.