Perhaps the greatest take of my young sports journalism career was the declaration that McKenzie Milton would be benched.
I had seen enough in 2016, and obviously the coaching staff had too. He made poor decisions. He struggled to throw the ball downfield. The offense had unraveled around him and culminated with an abysmal Cure Bowl performance to finish the year 6-7.
The McKenzie Milton Experiment is over. Let’s go get a real quarterback now.
The 2017 UCF team had a lot of potential. Everyone knew that. But having the right quarterback was obviously key, and my money was on Noah Vedral. Frost’s newest QB recruit seemed to be everything Milton wasn’t: a bigger body, a great arm, loads of potential. I felt sure that the Knights could have a 9-3 or 10-2 year behind him.
Even when Milton was named the starter for the opener against FIU, I wasn’t surprised. Give him another game to try to prove himself. He’ll fail, and Vedral will get the nod within a couple weeks.
Sitting in the press box for the FIU game, our writer Bailey Adams, who was a big Milton supporter and did not enjoy my takes about him, told me that he would have at least 250 passing yards by the end of the game. I laughed. Sure, man. He had broken that mark just twice as a freshman, but sure.
360 passing yards on a 76 percent completion rate. Four touchdowns. A 44-point win.
Welp. Time to delete some tweets.
That night kicked off a 25-game stretch where McKenzie Milton was the indisputable king of college football. He was unstoppable, a force unlike anything that I’d ever seen. It’s the 21st century, we’ve gotten plenty of versatile quarterbacks who can make things happen with their legs.
But Milton was something else entirely. Defenses were helpless. There was no game plan, no set of players, no team that could shut him down.
Look at the Peach Bowl. The passing game wasn’t there in the first half. Everyone was just a little off, which was understandable since it was the biggest game any of UCF’s guys had ever played in.
That could’ve been catastrophic for any team in a game that big, against an opponent that tough. Not for Milton. He ran all over Auburn, finishing the day with 116 rushing yards and a score, not to mention adding 242 yards and two touchdowns through the air when he settled down in the second half and started lasering the ball downfield.
Even against Top 10 teams, there just was not an answer for him. For almost two full years, he was unstoppable. And that made UCF unstoppable.
I don’t really want to get into the injury here. Everything you need to know about it is out there and it was a horrible day for all of us. So instead, I want to talk about legacy.
My dad went to UCF. I was born and raised in Orlando. I’ve been going to UCF games since before I could speak and this school, and team, has always been a part of my life (even when very young me had a tendency to fall asleep at games. Four hours outdoors is a lot to ask of a 10-year-old.)
There were plenty of great moments in this program’s history before Milton arrived, from beating Alabama at their homecoming, to knocking off Georgia in a bowl, to winning the Fiesta Bowl in the only year the Knights had access to a major bid.
But when you grow up as a UCF fan at a high school where everyone else is a Gator or a Seminole, when you have to explain what team you’re talking about to anyone from out of town (“Oh! You mean Central Florida!) you can’t help but dream of what could be.
Anyone who’s been a fan of this team for a long time remembers the “Sleeping Giant” talks, the dreams of future potential. We all knew what this program could become.
It took McKenzie Milton for all those dreams to come true.
UCF had no business going undefeated two years after finishing winless. The Knights had no business winning 25 games in a row, hosting College GameDay and knocking off big team after big team in the wake of an entire coaching staff change.
But when McKenzie Milton is your quarterback, there’s no point in thinking about what your team can’t accomplish, because the answer is nothing.
I don’t know what’s next for Milton, what school is about to land a player that finished Top Eight in Heisman voting twice. But I do know that this fanbase will never forget what he did here. They’ll never forget the many amazing wins, the highlight plays that took over Twitter and SportsCenter, or when 45,000 members of Knight Nation showed their support with leis in the Bounce House.
UCF’s future is very bright. I can’t wait to see what comes next and what amazing heights Dillon Gabriel can lead this program to.
But no matter how many years go by, we will never forget McKenzie Milton. The player that I wanted benched, who made every dream that fans had for this team come true instead.