Ranking all of UCF’s games in 2020

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications.

As UCF prepares for its Boca Bowl showdown with a to-be-determined ACC opponent, it’s time to reflect back on the 2020 season. Knight Sports Now founder Christian Simmons and senior writer Bailey Adams collaborated to rank all of UCF’s games this year from least entertaining to most entertaining. Check out the list below.

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications

9. Tulsa

BA: Everything about this game, at least from what I can remember, was terrible. Even the first half felt disjointed for a previously scorching hot offense, then Josh Heupel went conservative at the end of the first half. That blew up in his face when UCF fumbled on the opening kickoff of the second half and things spiraled out of control from there. And don’t even get me started on the penalties… This loss doesn’t look as bad now as it did at the time, but UCF just has to stop losing to Tulsa. There isn’t a world where the Golden Hurricane should be this dominant against the Knights. (My ranking: 9)

CS: I don’t think this loss is half as devastating if it happens just a few weeks later, once we all knew that Tulsa was a Top 25 team. But man, UCF opening its home slate against a team that went 4-8 the year before, all while flirting with a Top 10 ranking — and then losing after putting up one of the most miserable second half performances in recent memory was a lot to take in. Knight Nation was inexplicably caught off-guard. It was a depressing, sobering night as we all quickly realized that the Knights were due for more heartbreaking losses instead of more Playoff debates. (My ranking: 8)

BA: I said all of that and didn’t even mention that this loss broke UCF’s home winning streak that dated back to the start of 2017. I want to forget about this game forever. 

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications

8. Temple

BA: Somehow this 25-point win for the Knights just felt so meh. There was really no point where it felt like Temple was going to pull off the upset, but UCF didn’t seem to be all that sharp throughout the night. Greg McCrae scored two touchdowns and Marlon Williams made one of the more memorable plays of the season, plus the Knights built a 38-3 lead through three quarters. But allowing 10 fourth-quarter points and failing to add to the lead left a sour taste, plus the game as a whole didn’t inspire too much confidence that the team would be able to upset Cincinnati just seven days later. It was a fine game, but it was nothing close to the game UCF had against Temple in 2019. (My ranking: 8)

CS: This was about as uninspiring of a blowout win as you’ll ever find. Sure, UCF won by a lot of points and that’s always a good thing, but it felt like the Knights just weren’t ever really clicking. The final score was much more indicative of how freaking awful Temple is than how dominant UCF was. And, as Bailey touched on, this was just not what the team needed heading into Cincinnati. We all wanted to see an unrelenting offense paired with a stout defense come together for a win that would have the Bearcats sweating for the next week. Instead, we got a subpar offensive performance, a defense that basically had to sit back as Temple screwed up on its own, and a four-hour game that was completely forgettable. (My ranking: 7)

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications

7. Houston

BA: In my mind, I have to separate this game into the game itself and the ESPN+ presentation of this game. Christian apparently can’t separate the two, so I will. News broke just before the game that the Knights would be without four defensive starters after an on-campus incident a couple of days earlier. That didn’t inspire much confidence in a Randy Shannon defense that was already struggling before this meeting with a tough Houston offense. But what we got once the game started was the defense’s best performance of the year. It allowed zero (ZERO) first-half points as UCF got out to a 23-7 halftime lead. The team cruised the rest of the way and even responded to the Cougars’ garbage time touchdown with a garbage time touchdown of its own. That’s something we rarely see from a Heupel team, and it was a welcome sight. Now, the ESPN+ presentation of the game was hot trash, but I’ll let Christian shred that whole debacle to pieces. (My ranking: 4)

CS: You’re damn right that it was hot trash. I ranked this game dead last solely due to the production quality and I stand by that decision wholeheartedly. This is a ranking of how much we enjoyed this year’s games and there was no possible way to have enjoyed this mess of a production. Not when the announcers are clueless, the score box at no point is accurate, the camera crew was borrowed from the Blair Witch Project, and the lighting was inexplicably the exact same shade of dark yellow used for all the Mexico scenes in Breaking Bad. UCF could’ve won by 30 or lost by 50. Doesn’t matter when the broadcast misses half of the plays and the cameras are zipping around the sky as if they just grabbed some kids off the street who had never watched a game before to operate them. What a profound waste of the audience’s time. (My ranking: 9)

BA: That was everything I hoped it would be and more. Thank you, Christian.

CS: I feel slightly better now.

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications

6. Memphis

BA: If you were a neutral for this game, there’s no doubt that you had a whale of a time. If you were a Memphis fan, you probably had several heart attack scares and prolonged periods of sadness. If you were a UCF fan, well, your eyes were essentially violated every time the defense was on the field and then you got all of your hope back when Daniel Obarski lined up for a potential game-winning field goal from 40 yards out late in the fourth quarter. I hope you didn’t like having that hope, though, because the kick went wide left and the Knights had officially suffered their second straight loss. It was the team’s first time losing back-to-back games since 2016, and even if the score read like it was a 50-49 thriller, it was just pain-inducing football for Knight Nation to watch. When you add that this ended the program’s reign of dominance over Memphis (at least for now), this one is better left forgotten once we turn the calendar to 2021. (My ranking: 7)

CS: I have a pretty good rationale for ranking this game where I did even though it was without a doubt the most painful one to watch. Let’s say that Matthew Wright somehow got an extra year of eligibility, or maybe let’s even just say that Obarski isn’t bad at his job, and UCF makes what was a very straightforward kick. If the Knights win that game 52-50, then we are obviously remembering this as an all-time classic. That’s how neutral fans see it. So, the fact that we dropped this game all the way from No. 1 to No. 6 over three measly points really shows how devastating it was for us. What should’ve been the best game of the year instead ended in me making a drink and staring blankly at a wall for 45 minutes. (My ranking: 6)

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications

5. USF

BA: This game. THIS GAME. It was so mind-numbingly frustrating watching UCF struggle to put South Florida away. This was a Bulls team that arrived at Raymond James Stadium with a 1-7 record, and that one win was against The Citadel. Randy Shannon’s defense had exactly zero answers in this game. It was just an ugly effort from the defense, and those guys should really be thankful that the offense showed up to bail them out. A 58-point effort from the Knights against their I-4 rivals should’ve been cause for celebration. Instead, it was a win that really didn’t feel like one. This was actually the only game of the season I was able to attend, and I so badly wanted it to be a feel-good, triumphant return to watching football live in-person. Instead, I was annoyed for the better part of four hours when I could’ve been with my dad celebrating his birthday. Perhaps I got what I deserved for going to the game on my dad’s birthday. Sorry, Pops. (My ranking: 6)

CS: Wow, Bailey. I can’t help but be a little offended that you spent four hours sitting next to me “annoyed.” I thought we were better friends than that. Of course, neither of us were as annoyed as my longtime UCF fan father who was angrier than I’d ever seen him at a game. But can you really blame him when the Knights stepped onto the field expecting to get their biggest win ever against the Bulls, and stepped off with a 12-point result that was in question midway through the fourth quarter? It was a remarkably embarrassing performance, one that USF fans basically treated as a sound moral victory. Definitely not the end to the regular season that I had in mind. (My ranking: 5)

BA: Honestly, one of the highlights of my afternoon was relaying Christian’s thoughts to UCF Twitter after his phone died. Greg McCrae running all over the Bulls again was nice too, though.

CS: Thank you again for temporarily being my scribe. There’s nothing as torturous as watching your team play badly and not being able to fire off Twitter takes about it.

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications

4. Cincinnati 

BA: This late-November clash at the Bounce House was UCF’s chance to revive its season and make it clear that there is still one true king of the AAC. And for much of the game, the Knights played pretty well. They got out to a good start and even led in the fourth quarter before an unfortunate turnover turned the tide. This loss, which was the team’s second straight against Cincinnati, was a tough one. It definitely felt like a game that UCF could’ve won. You have to wonder how things would’ve turned out had the Knights widened their early 14-3 lead while the Bearcats were out of sync. Alas, this was just another what-if in a season full of them. It wasn’t the worst game to watch, though. (My ranking: 5)

CS: This was honestly the toughest one to rank for me. On one hand, it was an excellent game and it feels slightly ridiculous to get too worked up over a three point loss to a Top 10 team that went down to the wire. But on the other hand, this game felt in a lot of ways like a symbolic end to UCF’s run as the indisputable top brand of the AAC. Losing to Cincy on the road with a true freshman QB is one thing. Getting outplayed in your own building is another. That being said, I stand firm in my belief that UCF doesn’t lose this game with a packed Bounce House. It’s not a coincidence that the Knights went 2-2 at home and 4-1 on the road this year. Either way, it was a loss that was tough to swallow, but still a very fun game. (My ranking: 3)

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications.

3. ECU

BA: Full disclosure: I spent much of this game at the car dealership purchasing a new vehicle. I’m an actual adult these days (except for when I’m not). This win came on the heels of UCF’s season-opening victory over Georgia Tech and it felt a lot like that win over the Yellow Jackets, too. The Pirates got out to a hot start and hung around early before the Knights blew them out of the water. Dillon Gabriel had another monster day and the defense forced four turnovers in what was the final game that any of us really felt like UCF was a New Year’s Six Bowl-worthy team. Even if I missed a lot of this one, it still ranks pretty high up there for me. (My ranking: 3)

CS: It says a lot about this year that a game that UCF opened with four straight false starts ended up being the third most enjoyable contest of 2020. In hindsight, there were an awful lot of flaws evident early that we just sort of glossed over. But even with those flaws, this was just a plain fun game. Gabriel had a big day, the Knights looked close to unstoppable on both sides of the ball, and all was right in the world. It was a simpler time, really. (My ranking: 4)

UCF running back Greg McCrae (30) runs away from Tulane defenders during the Tulane at UCF football game at Bounce House stadium in Orlando on Saturday, October 24, 2020. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

2. Tulane

BA: Unsurprisingly, UCF brought the heat once again for its Space Game. A lot of things were disappointing in 2020, but these uniforms definitely weren’t. And the game was a fun one, with the Knights recovering from their back-to-back losses to take it to the Green Wave inside the Bounce House. Greg McCrae started the game with a 54-yard run and despite the fact that UCF settled for a field goal afterward, that play really set the tone for what was a dominant performance. Dillon Gabriel totaled over 400 passing yards and threw for five touchdowns, the Knights put up nearly 700 yards of offense and a 27-point second quarter meant this thing was over by halftime. After two crushing losses, it just felt nice for UCF to get back in the win column in comfortable fashion. And the team looked great doing it, which is always a plus. (My ranking: 2)

CS: Obviously, this game gets a massive bump for the space uniforms. Even from the press box, I got so much more out of this matchup just from taking in those astonishing unis. But the game was good too! This was very much a make-or-break day for UCF. The Knights were coming off two straight losses, and a third straight would’ve pretty much tanked this season 2015 style. But the team went out there and put on one of its most dominant performances of the season. It gave us hope that UCF was still as talented as we had thought, and it ended up being the spark that ignited a three-game winning streak before running into the Cincinnati road block. And again, space uniforms! (My rank: #1)

Photo courtesy of UCF Athletics Communications.

1 Georgia Tech

BA: This just had to be the top game. After months of wondering whether or not we would even get a season, the Knights finally opened up the 2020 campaign on Sept. 19, and they did so with a 28-point road win over ACC opponent Georgia Tech. The game was a fun back-and-forth affair early on and it seemed like there was going to be some late drama before UCF scored the final 21 points of the game. Dillon Gabriel threw for four touchdowns, Otis Anderson and Greg McCrae both scored and the defense forced five turnovers. It was a great start to the season and it gave us a lot of hope, considering the team started at No. 14 in the polls and seemed primed for an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff. Never mind that all of that went out the window a few weeks later. This was the return of UCF football after a long, long offseason, and it was great to see. (My ranking: 1)

CS: One thing that appears to have gotten lost in the shuffle of this season is how unbearably obnoxious Georgia Tech’s fans were leading up to this game. Like, they actually thought it was going to be an easy win. Somehow. The 2020 season fell far short of the expectations we all had for this team, but it’s nice to know that even a down year for UCF still includes ripping an unsuspecting Power Five team to shreds. That’ll never not be fun to watch. Here’s hoping that the Yellow Jackets aren’t the last ACC team to fall to the Knights in 2020. (My ranking: #2)