Year one in the Big XII had plenty of ups and downs
Now that the regular season has ended and UCF is headed to the Gasparilla bowl for another “Tampa Takeover,” I thought it would be fitting to do a quick look back at the inaugural Big XII season for the Knights. How did the first year in our new “Power” conference play out? Nothing too deep this week; just my thoughts on each of the 12 games that UCF played this year. Let’s take quick look back at how things played out:
Kent State, W 56-6
First game of the year. “Here we go!” Spirits were high. Knights put on an offensive showing against an FBS opponent. The game went as it should have. UCF out-talented the MAC team on their home field. Also, the start of “student -gate.” The student sections were empty by halftime. This is a theme that would be debated all season, especially after the first Knights loss at home. More to come on that later.
Boise State, W 18-16
This early-season game arguably had one of the biggest impacts on our overall season. Everyone expected this to be a tough game. Boise, Idaho is a LONG way away from Florida and the Knights were playing on the famous “blue turf. While we won the game, the victory did cost us, in the end. A wild game that saw Boomer make a last second field goal to secure the win, also resulted in a JRP injury that sidelined him for weeks. Could the Knights’ season have been better than 6-6 if he hadn’t gotten hurt? That hit on JRP should have been called targeting. You can’t convince me otherwise…
Villanova, W 48-14
With JRP sidelined, it was “Timmy Time.” Villanova was a perfect warm-up game for him to get back on the saddle. While we didn’t learn much in this game, it was an opportunity for Timmy to get valuable reps with the first team offense. Oh, and the student section rumblings were still hanging around.
Kansas State, L 44-31
UCF’s first Big XII conference game and first loss of the season. Many folks had this game listed as one of our toughest games of the season. K-State was the defending Big XII champions and UCF was without their starting quarterback. Despite the odds, Timmy and the team played well on the road. The game was still within the Knights’ reach until about the 4th quarter. A respectable showing, in the end. A victory would have been better than a loss, but I can’t complain with the result looking back.
Baylor, L 36-35
Where to begin on this one? What should have been UCF’s Big XII coming out party in the Bounce House, instead became a second half (k)nightmare. UCF came out swinging on their first offensive drive. Johnny Richardson took the first snap 79 years to house for six. The Bounce House was electric. UCF held a 35-7 lead midway through the third quarter… and somehow lost. It’s still mind boggling. Baylor wasn’t great this year. UCF simply let themselves lose this game. In the end the Baylor game was a good learning lesson (read as: “wake up call”) that in the Big 12, no games are “easy.” These aren’t the same teams in the AAC, anymore. Oh, and student-gate really took off in the wake of this loss. Many fans blamed the loss on the students for leaving at halftime. Would the game have ended differently if the stadium had remained full? I guess we’ll never know.
Kansas, L 51-22
This is the only game this season where the Knights never had a shot at winning. Kansas simply outclassed UCF, putting up nearly 400 yards on the ground. The score isn’t even as close as it appears. UCF went into halftime scoreless. Kansas held the ball for nearly 35 minutes of the 60-minute game.
Oklahoma, L 31-29
The Dillon Gabriel bowl. UCF’s first and only chance to beat the Sooners before they head to the SEC in 2024. UCF could have won this one and kept it close the entire game, including a 17-17 tie at halftime. JRP returned as QB1 but was clearly still fighting the injury bug that limited his ability to run the ball. A last second, failed 2-pt conversion by UCF gave Oklahoma the win. “Xavier (Townsend), just throw the ball!”
West Virginia, L 41-28
Was this a hangover after a tough loss on the road in Norman, Oklahoma? Another game in the Bounce House that was tough to swallow as the Knights fell to the Mountaineers, despite Shaq’s claims that “West Virginia dies today” in his pregame concert. JRP had another one of “those” games where he threw three interceptions and the Knights offense struggled to find the endzone. Redzone problems continued to be an issue for the Knights. The fifth loss in a row for the Knights had fans wondering when the pain would end.
Cincinnati, W 28-26
A familiar foe in the Bearcats provided the energy UCF needed to get back on track. The game was a little closer than I would have liked, but the Knights did what was necessary to get the win over a “rival.” Let’s be honest, Cincinnati was not a good team this year. UCF was playing on the road at Nippert, though, so I’ll give them a pass! Oh, and they secured the dub, which goes down in the history books as UCF’s first official Big XII conference win.
Oklahoma State, W 45-3
Space game Mission VII! The Knights broke out all Canaveral Blue uniforms for the first time in school history. As they say, “look good, play good.” Nobody saw this blowout coming. Number 15 ranked Oklahoma State had arguably the best running back in the nation and the UCF defense held him and the Cowboys to a mere 52 yards of rushing on the day. Oklahoma State was unprepared for the Knights’ offense and the central Florida weather. I hear they forgot to bring their rain jackets… to Florida. It was a very WET game, with Orlando unleashing a tidal wave of rain in the middle of the game. RJ Harvey rushed for over 200 yards as the Knights routed OK-State. UCF secured its first top-15 win in a long while. Fans were even allowed to “rush” the field after the game in a “controlled” manner of walking through the gates. It was a great (k)night, all around.
Texas Tech, L 24-23
The Trace Trylko bowl. Another heartbreaker where the Knights found themselves coming up just short, yet again, losing by ONE point. Colton Boomer had a tough night as he missed a 32-yard field goal and a critical PAT, that cost the Knights the game. Fans, who forgot that Boomer saved the team in the Boise State game, blamed this loss on him. They seem to forget that, even had UCF made both the PAT and field goal, Texas Tech had been having their way with the UCF defense all night, running and passing at will. My guess is that they would have had more than enough firepower left to find the endzone and still win the game. The Knights, while trying to lock up bowl eligibility, fall in a close one to the Red Raiders of Lubbock, Texas.
Houston, W 27-13
The fighting Dana Holgersons arrived in Orlando for a beat down by the Knights. RJ Harvey had himself another great day, rushing for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Boomer, on the other hand, had another uncharacteristically bad day, missing two more field goals and a PAT against the Cougars. It’s not a normal season if a head coach doesn’t get fired after losing to UCF, am I right? Houston fired Coach Holgerson not long after the loss to UCF. With this win, the Knights earned bowl eligibility for the 2023 season. Overall ending with a 6-6 regular season record and a bid to 2023 Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Florida to face ACC foe, Georgia Tech for a third time in just four years.