I am so done hearing about realignment. Maybe that’s the benefit of actually being on the right side of it for once. The countless hours I’ve spent doom scrolling through conference scenarios and listening to pundits giving their two cents on what XYZ Conference should do is troublesome. People like power and money. Resources are paramount to building an elite athletics program and climbing the ladder of major Division I Athletics. I get it. There are certain unalienable truths in college football. Kids are getting paid now. We will still watch. TV Networks are charging ungodly amounts for ad time. Dr. Pepper will always have my attention for every conference championship halftime show for eternity, as long as they keep up with their incredible billing formula: man v. woman, underhand v. traditional throw, smaller school v. bigger conference juggernaut.
I’m ready to enjoy our first season as a “Power 5” team. We’ve looked the part before and have achieved a lot of success in the past. I think we are in for a treat this year. Not because we have a stable of backs ready to run wild. Not because a legacy QB has whispered sweet nothings into the ear of QB1 making his passes crispier, or an opportunistic D-Line ready to unleash their will. Why? Because we can decide to bring our joy. I am a huge proponent of making where your feet are at the best place possible. Make everything around you better. Be present, take in the moment. Enjoy the ride. The beauty of UCF Football is you never really know what to expect.
I started at UCF in 2005 with a flip phone with basic SMS messaging and grainy photos. One text in, one text out. A handful of friend’s numbers were saved and my family unit was all memorized. I remember that first game on campus versus Texas better than I do some games from even last year. What was tailgating? Memory Mall looked like a FEMA outpost with a mismatch of blue tents and charcoal smoke billowing through from the charred dogs on that balmy September day. It was a new experience. Felt different from Citrus Bowl tailgating. The day was ours. The moment was whatever we made of it.
My sister started her first year at UCF in the fall of 2007 and we took relief in sitting inside the arena to get away from the sun. She has always been more of an introvert, reserving her energy for her students and being a damn good teacher. While I looked for a tailgate happening, she was sufficed in hearing the band play and sipping her water in the A/C. I was looking for the second coming of National Lampoon’s Animal House in Orlando. I vividly remember the piercing burnt orange that filled our stadium that day. It was great to see passionate fans that sparred back in jest. All my memories from that day are captured on a 3.2-megapixel digital camera. SD card with a charged battery life of a couple of hours. It was a glorious time to be alive. No distractions. No 30-second reel on my Instagram story. Just whatever was in front of you and the people around you.
The Longhorns put three on the board first that day. But the very first touchdown was an eight-play 68-yard drive culminating in Kevin Smith getting in for six. The place went apeshit. That is a core memory of my UCF fandom. When the “Bounce House” was really the Bounce House. There was a 15-minute rain delay that first quarter that felt like an eternity but also a catharsis for my collegiate experience. The music of the time was world-renowned hip-hop legend Soulja Boy with his timeless classic “Crank That.” I remember seeing the Texas sideline “crankin’ that” in tandem with the UCF sideline. The humid rain poured on us and delivered a baptism of sorts into major big-boy football. The energy only amplified from there on out and even though we fell a little short that day, you knew we were cooking something special.
Weirdly we were always kin to the Big 12. The first home game on campus was a Texas team two years removed from winning a thrilling national championship with Vince Young. Our first New Year’s Six bowl win was against Baylor, the defending Big 12 Champs at the time. The battles we’ve had with Cincinnati, bring in a sneaky underrated rivalry with the spaghetti and chili connoisseurs as we enter our new conference together. The juicy storyline, year one, as we travel to Norman and face our old signal caller. Even though we’re the new kid on the block, we put on our socks one foot at a time like everyone else. We belong. Some things are just right and this feels like it.
In year one in the Big 12, I would love to make a bowl game and prove we can handle a P5-level schedule and keep on our upward trajectory. It will be nice to enjoy the full breadth of the season. We had to be damn near perfect in a G5 conference to receive accolades and attention. A lot of wind could be removed from our sails should we not show out, out-of-conference in September versus a meddling mid-tier ACC team (See Louisville 2022). No margin for error and bitter apathy could settle in quickly for the fringe fan. We went on a 25-game winning streak and still were denied access to the playoff. In the Big 12, we can make a conference title game at 8-4 with how deep this league is and still head to a major bowl. Who knows with an expanded playoff what damage we can do.
Every week we are garnering looks from the blue-chip talent that wants to be in Orlando. We are in a metropolitan area with beautiful weather, incredible local talent, strong academics, and growing at a warp speed pace. You can go to some places and tack on to tradition. Here, you can build it. I’m 35 and I’ve seen a lot of great moments and firsts not many other fanbases can enjoy.
We know all this though. We embody it. Now we have an opportunity to harness it and showcase it to the country, what makes this place so damn special. Just enjoy it. I am a huge believer in the notion that “the sweet is not as sweet without the sour.” The win/loss column is important, but not the only thing. It’s about seeing friends from eras past, reconnecting with 18-yr old you, looking back on what we’ve built, and excitement for what’s to come with the most important people in your life now.
Prayer Circle for a mellow hurricane season. Regardless of the weather, I’ll be hunkering down in whatever tailgate lot will have me.
‘Til next time, take care of yourself and each other.