Was “The U” ever back? Determining how many years UCF was better than Miami in the 2010’s

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There may not be a Florida fan base that takes more shots on social media at UCF than Miami. Hurricanes fans, for whatever reason, just can’t stand to see the Knights succeed.

Things can get especially vicious when UCF fans push the idea that there is a Big Four, not a Big Three, in the state. Miami fans (along with UF and FSU) are always quick to dismiss this notion.

But is there something to it? Does UCF deserve to be considered part of the Big Four? The more important question might be, does Miami deserve to be?

It seems we talk an awful lot each year about The U being back, but has it ever actually been? Let’s take a look at how UCF and Miami stack up against each other each year for the last decade. We’ll look at everything from record to strength of schedule to coaching changes to decide who was the best team of those two each year from 2010 to present.

Maybe UCF will show that it’s been Big Four longer than we think. Maybe Miami will show that it’s truly light years ahead of what amounts to an annoyingly loud Group of Five program.

Let’s get started.

2010

UCF

  • 11-3
  • Liberty Bowl Win (6-6 Georgia)
  • Conference USA Champs (7-5 SMU)
  • AP Rank: No. 21

Miami

  • 7-6
  • Sun Bowl Loss (7-5 Notre Dame)
  • AP Rank: N/A

Well, this one’s pretty simple isn’t it? UCF was one of the 25 best teams in the nation and Miami was not. The Knights had a breakout year, winning their second conference championship, emerging from a bowl game victorious for the first time ever and earning the first of what would go on to be five Top 25 finishes in the 2010’s.

Miami’s season went a bit differently. The Hurricanes came into the year expecting to compete for a conference championship in the ACC but things didn’t go as planned, with the team sputtering to a 7-5 finish that saw Coach Randy Shannon fired hours after the final game of the regular season.

As this ESPN article described the scene: “Hocutt made the decision shortly after Miami lost to South Florida 23-20 in overtime on Saturday afternoon, in a game where only about 27,000 people filled the 73,000 seats at Sun Life Stadium. A plane circled the stadium before kickoff calling for a coaching change, and players left fearing that it would be the last time they played for Shannon.”

So, yeah. Not much of a debate in 2010.

The Better Team: UCF


2011

UCF

  • 5-7

Miami

  • 6-6

2011 was not exactly a banner year for either team. UCF faced a quarterback conundrum that contributed to the Knights dropping six games by single digits. Miami notched a couple decent wins but still only finished .500 and missed out on the postseason due to a bowl ban.

These were two forgettable campaigns. But at the end of the day, Miami had the better record and the tougher schedule.

The Better Team: Miami


2012

UCF

  • 10-4
  • Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl Win (9-3 Ball State)
  • Conference USA Loss (9-3 Tulsa)

Miami

  • 7-5

This is one of those years where, if you’re a Miami fan, you’d probably try to argue that UCF’s accomplishments were offset by playing in a weak conference compared to the mighty ACC. But the difference actually wasn’t that jarring.

According to teamrankings.com, the Hurricanes clocked in with the 44th toughest schedule, while the Knights came in at 66th. That’s certainly a difference, but not nearly dramatic enough of one to say a seven-win team had a better season than a 10-4 bowl team that made it to overtime of its conference championship game.

The Better Team: UCF


2013

UCF

  • 12-1
  • Fiesta Bowl Win (No. 6, 11-1 Baylor)
  • AAC Champs
  • AP Rank: No. 10

Miami

  • 9-4
  • Russell Athletic Bowl Loss (No. 18, 11-1 Louisville)
  • AP Rank: RV (No. 29)

This was one of those rare years where there were times that it seemed The U really might be back. Miami started the year 7-0 and got ranked as high as No. 7 in the AP Poll before coming back down to Earth a bit and finishing 9-3. The Hurricanes ended up outside of the Top 25 thanks to a bowl loss to Louisville, but it was still their most solid season in years.

Of course, none of that matters for the sake of this article since UCF went 12-1, won its third conference championship in seven years, had its only loss come to an eventual top five team and earned its first ever major bowl appearance, where it took down the heavily-favored Big 12 Champion Baylor.

And just for good measure, the Knights were also the only loss for that Cardinal team that beat up on the Hurricanes in bowl season. No debate this year.

The Better Team: UCF


2014

UCF

  • 9-4
  • St. Pete Bowl Loss (7-5 NC State)
  • AAC Champs

Miami

  • 6-7
  • Independence Bowl Loss (6-6 South Carolina)

This is the first year where there really is a debate to be had. I know, UCF fans, how dare I question if a nine-win Group of Five team is better than a six-win Power Five team? Well, there are some arguments to be made here.

UCF obviously had the better season, but there were some questionable results mixed in there. The Knights lost to an eventual two-win UConn team and fell to a mid-level team from the Hurricanes’ conference in bowl season. UCF’s best win was probably against 8-4 BYU. Not exactly inspiring.

Miami actually got off to a decent start and was 6-3 at one point, including a 55-34 win against a Cincinnati team that UCF split the AAC with. But the Hurricanes collapsed late in the season and dropped their final four games, two of which were against losing teams.

You can make a case for the ‘Canes here, you really can. But knowing that UCF would have beaten Penn State to open the season if not for playing the wrong quarterback in the first half combined with Miami dropping the final third of its schedule swings things to the Knights. If the Hurricanes had won just one of those final four games, this would be a different conversation.

The Better Team: UCF


2015

UCF

  • 0-12
  • Yikes
  • So Bad

Miami

  • 8-5
  • Sun Bowl Loss (8-4 Washington State)

Congratulations to Miami which, by fielding a football team, takes the crown for the 2015 season. Do you actually need an explanation here? UCF literally did not win a game. The Hurricanes could’ve won their opener against Bethune-Cookman, spent the rest of the semester relaxing in the Bahamas, and still come out on top.

The Better Team: Miami


2016

UCF

  • 6-7
  • Cure Bowl Loss (7-5 Arkansas State)
  • AP Rank: N/A

Miami

  • 9-4
  • Russell Athletic Bowl Win (No. 16, 10-2 West Virginia)
  • AP Rank: No. 20

Another year where there really isn’t much to debate. UCF was still in the midst of recovering from its catastrophic 2015 season and new coach Scott Frost was in the early stages of turning around an anemic offense.

Miami, meanwhile, had its best season in years. The Hurricanes won a bowl game for the first time since 2006 and finally showed up in the final AP Top 25, something the team hadn’t accomplished since 2009.

The Better Team: Miami


2017

UCF

  • 13-0
  • Peach Bowl Win (No. 7, 10-3 Auburn)
  • AAC Champs (No. 20, 10-1 Memphis)
  • AP Rank: No. 6

Miami

  • 10-3
  • Orange Bowl Loss (No. 6, 12-1 Wisconsin)
  • ACC Loss (No. 1, 11-1 Clemson)
  • AP Rank: No. 13

Boy, did The U pick the wrong year to come back. The first two thirds of this season almost felt like a love letter to Miami’s past, as the Hurricanes wracked up wins and raced out to a 10-0 start. They became the darlings of college football after a beat-down of No. 3 Notre Dame and were perfectly positioned to make a run at a national championship.

You know how that went. 10-0 Miami lost to Pitt. Then to Clemson in the ACC Championship. Then again in the Orange Bowl. It was still the Hurricanes’ first major bowl appearance in 14 years and their highest final AP ranking since 2004, but not at all the season it could have been.

UCF meanwhile went from winless to undefeated in just two years, took down four ranked teams throughout the season, including topping 10-1 Memphis for the AAC Championship and SEC runner-up Auburn in the Peach Bowl.

Sorry, Miami. Being the 13th-best team in the nation just wasn’t going to cut it in 2017.

The Better Team: UCF


2018

UCF

  • 12-1
  • Fiesta Bowl Loss (No. 11, 9-3 LSU)
  • AAC Champs (8-4 Memphis)
  • AP Rank: No. 11

Miami

  • 7-6
  • Pintripe Bowl Loss (7-5 Wisconsin)
  • AP Rank: N/A

Finally, UCF and Miami both went into the same season with lofty expectations. And they both delivered early on, with the Knights pushing their winning streak behind the efforts of an absurdly-talented offense and the Hurricanes starting 5-1 with the only loss to SEC power LSU.

But then, things diverged around mid-October. UCF just kept on winning while banging the drum for Group of Five representation in the Playoff. Miami lost four of its last six games.

And so, what should’ve been a fun season where both teams challenged for Big Three status ended with UCF coming eight points shy of another undefeated year and Miami reminding us all that the The U is, in fact, not back.

The Better Team: UCF


2019

UCF

  • 10-3
  • Gasparilla Bowl Win (8-4 Marshall)
  • AP Rank: No. 24

Miami

  • 6-7
  • Independence Bowl Loss (9-3 Louisiana Tech)
  • AP Rank: N/A

And we cap off the decade with a third straight season where UCF was unequivocally the better team. The Knights undoubtedly took a step back as they transitioned to a true freshman quarterback, but still lost three games by just seven combined points and finished in the AP Top 25.

Miami, under new coach Manny Diaz, is pretty much back where it started the decade: dreaming of conference championships but still working on recording winning seasons. (This year was so lopsided that we don’t even need to get into Miami losing to FIU and posting an 0-2 record against Conference USA teams. No reason to bring that up at all.)

The Better Team: UCF


Alright, now that we’ve gone through each season, here’s where things stand.

Miami was the better team in 2011, 2015 and 2016.

UCF was the better team in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

As you can see, there is clearly a Big Three in the state of Florida. Miami just isn’t part of it.



About Christian Simmons 94 Articles
Christian Simmons is the founder and editor of Knight Sports Now. You can follow him on Twitter at @ByCASimmons.