Well, with UCF’s 17-13 win over South Florida on Friday night at the Bounce House, we’ve reached the end of Gus Malzahn’s first regular season as the Knights’ head coach. So, let’s talk about it.
UCF finished its regular season with an overall record of 8-4 and a 5-3 mark in AAC play. By this program’s standards, that’s not good enough. But when you take everything into consideration regarding the insane number of injuries the team suffered this year, it’s hard to really feel too down about this type of 8-4 season.
Sure, the heartbreaking loss to Louisville is one that may sting for a while. Not to mention, there was that loss to Navy the following week to really drop everyone down into a pit of despair. But after a 2-2 start, UCF went 6-2 the rest of the way. Oh, and it did so with a true freshman quarterback while having its top receiver and its projected top three running backs (before camp began) sidelined for most of the season. That’s without even getting into the countless injuries at every level of the defense as well, including a season-ending knee injury suffered by stud defensive lineman Kalia Davis.
I said on Episode 29 of The Pegasus Podcast back in the first week of August that the worst I could see the Knights finishing this season was 8-4. And that was obviously well before any of us knew that Dillon Gabriel would be lost for the season after three games and the team would be bit by the injury bug week in and week out.
With a healthy Gabriel and a healthy roster as a whole, 8-4 would’ve felt like a letdown. But circumstantially, it’s hard to feel a great deal of disappointment with the season we just witnessed. Sure, the team failing to look even the least bit competitive against Cincinnati and SMU was tough to stomach, but after that loss to Navy on the first Saturday in October, many were questioning if UCF would even make a bowl game. Five weeks later, the team became bowl eligible. And after Friday, the team now has a chance to finish with nine wins by the end of December.
So, when you look back on 2021 and evaluate what Malzahn and his staff did in their first season in Orlando, it’s hard to feel anything but hope for the future. Winning eight games with a young, injury-ravaged team is no small feat, plus there’s the fact that this staff has put together what is currently the program’s best recruiting class ever. Add in a 2022 schedule that features nine games in the state of Florida and all of the toughest matchups coming at home, where UCF went 7-0 in 2021, and you have to be excited about what next fall can bring for the Knights.
It feels safe to say that no matter what happens in UCF’s bowl game next month, the Gus Bus will be rolling into 2022 at full speed.