One thing that’s almost defined Auburn football over the past several seasons is the roller-coaster ride that the program usually takes fans upon.
Auburn’s gone from national champions, to middling, to winless in the SEC, to national runner-ups, to middling, to playoff contenders. All the while, we’ve made a coaching change, teetered on whether we should eliminate the current staff, and then come to love them once the results were produced. It’s exhausting.
Now imagine that your entire football history has been that kind of a roller coaster ride.
UCF has only been at the Division 1-A or FBS level since the 1996 season, but they’ve only been a program since 1979. coincidentally having once been coached by a guy named Saban. Under Gene McDowell they moved up to Division 1-AA in 1990, and then after several successful seasons, ended up making the move to 1-A in 1996. Led by Daunte Culpepper for the first couple of seasons they were in 1-A, UCF did pretty well considering the bump in competition.
In 1996 and 1997, the Knights went 5-6. They lost to Auburn 41-14 in 1997, the second straight season that the Tigers had met UCF. In 1998, with Daunte Culpepper a senior on the team, they went 9-2, with one of those only defeats a 10-6 loss to the Bill Oliver Tigers.
Daunte Culpepper moved on to the NFL, but in 1999 the Knights lost by a point at Georgia, and then in 2000 they beat Alabama on the way to a 7-4 campaign. UCF strung together winning season after winning season, going 6-5 in 2001, then taking Penn State to the brink to start 2002 before finishing 7-5. Then disaster struck as head coach Mike Kruczek left the team and former Georgia Tech/disgraced Notre Dame head coach George O’Leary took over the program.
In the first two seasons under O’Leary, the Knights went 3-9, and then 0-11 in 2004, which was the team’s final year in the MAC. However, O’Leary orchestrated a turnaround that saw the Knights win the Conference USA East Division in 2005, falling to Tulsa in the title game, but heading to Hawaii for the program’s first ever bowl game.
In 2007, the Knights repeated the feat and won the division again, this time taking the C-USA championship and falling in a close loss to Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl. However, the up and down ride continued as 2008 saw the team endure just a 4-8 record before 2009 and 2010 produced winning years, with 2010 securing the team’s second conference championship.
It wasn’t until Gus Malzahn arrived at Auburn that UCF started to make national waves. In 2013, the Knights lost an early game to South Carolina, but then strung together eight wins in a row to finish the regular season at 11-1 and earn an at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl, where they met and defeated Baylor.
Then the downswing came for the latest time, as the Knights went 9-4 in 2014 before failing to win a game in 2015. O’Leary resigned midseason, and the Knights finished an 0-12 campaign. As Scott Frost took the head coaching job the next offseason, they’d get back to bowl eligibility immediately before turning the page to 2017.
This year, Scott Frost has shown what kind of a coach he is, reinvigorating a program that’s enjoyed and endured a similar tale as we have on the Plains. UCF has regularly seen the highs and the lows associated with college football, and we can easily commiserate and celebrate with them.
Now, both teams are on the upswing, however Auburn seems to be setting up a springboard into what should shape up to be a great 2018, while UCF is losing the head coach that brought them back into prominence. Frost will coach the bowl game, but then he and his staff are off to his alma mater of Nebraska. As for our outlook on the game, it’s the classic lose/lose situation. If we win, we were supposed to, and if we lose, then we’re the team that couldn’t get up for a big bowl against a lesser opponent.
We’ll dive more into UCF position by position as we get closer to the game. For now, rest assured that the fans on their side of the field have grayed just as much as we have over the past several seasons.