Well, it’s definitely an exciting time to be a UCF fan. Coach Gus Malzahn seems primed to get the program back on track. The team has had intriguing moments during the scrimmages open to the public. All kinds of high-level recruits are lining up to visit campus.
So where is Knight Nation’s head at right now? Expectations have never been in short supply around here but has that changed at all after last year’s 6-4 debacle? I decided to throw up a few polls on Twitter to see what UCF fans are expecting from this program moving forward and analyze how realistic those expectations are.
It may not be the most scientific poll, but the questions averaged about 130 votes. That feels like enough of a sample size that we’re at least taking the temperature of Knight Nation’s thoughts here. So let’s dive in!
Question 1: How often does UCF need to finish a year in the Top 25 for you to consider the program successful?
This was unquestionably the least divided of the polls. 72 percent of fans think that UCF should be a ranked team every single year. Astoundingly, just three percent of fans would consider anything less than a ranked season once every two to three years acceptable.
But the truly crazy part? This isn’t that crazy.
The Knights have appeared in the Top 25 at some point every year since 2017 and have finished there in three of the last four seasons. Overall, UCF has had five Top 25 campaigns since 2010.
But the real reason this is attainable is that the AAC is reaching the point of respect where its 10-win squads are very likely to get that final ranking with a bowl win. UCF got it done with a 9-3 regular season in 2019. It may sound almost absurdly lofty to declare that the Knights must be a Top 25 program every year, and it obviously won’t happen that consistently. Even the Oklahoma’s and Ohio State’s of the world stumble through an eight-win season every now and then.
But if a 9-3 or 10-2 season in the AAC gets you ranked, then UCF absolutely can hit that mark in most years.
Question 2: How often does UCF need to win the AAC for you to consider the program successful?
The vast majority of UCF fans, 70 percent in fact, consider winning the conference every other year to be acceptable. Only 16 percent of fans would be fine with less than that.
So let’s look at the numbers. The AAC has now existed for eight years. UCF has won the conference… four times. So expecting a conference title every other year really isn’t that out there.
That being said, part of the reason the AAC has seen such an uptick in respect over the last few years is that the conference is getting very tough. UCF, Memphis and Cincinnati are top tier teams capable of snagging a New Year’s Six bid pretty much every year. Navy, Houston and SMU are always capable of having big years. Even Tulane, Temple and Tulsa can be dangerous at any point. There’s also ECU and USF who you have to assume will stop being awful eventually.
The point is this conference is growing increasingly tough, especially as recruiting continues to pick up. Yes, UCF has claimed four conference titles in eight years. But it might be tough to maintain that rate with so many other high caliber teams vying for the crown.
I suspect that a more reasonable goal will be for the Knights to at least be in the title game every other year. Those just might not all end in wins.
Question 3: How often does UCF needs to be in a New Year’s Six Bowl for you to consider the program successful?
OK, guys. This is where I start to get a little concerned. 55 percent of UCF fans will only consider this program successful if the Knights are in a major bowl every other year or more. The problem is that this is truly an impossible standard.
And UCF shockingly still hit it once.
From 2013 to 2018, the Knights appeared in three New Year’s Six Bowls in six seasons. But it was far from just sunshine and rainbows. After all, there was an 0-12 season sandwiched in there as well.
A New Year’s Six game every other year is simply not an attainable goal for any Group of Five program. Even Boise State, the king of the mid-majors for much of the last 20 years, has been to just three such bowls since 2006.
I really hope that this doesn’t become the measuring stick that every UCF season is held to from now on. You can still be a Top 25 program without being literally the best of 59 Group of Five teams every single year. A New Year’s Six Appearance every three to four seasons is a more than reasonable, and still quite lofty, goal.
Question 4: What is a successful 2021 Season for UCF?
Well, Knight Nation has made one thing abundantly clear: new coach or not, UCF better be one of the top two teams in the AAC this year.
A whopping 70 percent of fans will only consider this transitional season successful if the Knights are in the AAC Championship game or better. The truly shocking figure to me is that a quarter of fans will only sign off on 2021 as a productive year if UCF is in a New Year’s Six Bowl.
The Malzahn hype has been off the charts since he arrived in Orlando, and he’s very much fanned the flames, but there may be a lot of people hopping off the Gus Bus come December if these are truly the expectations.
And then again, maybe I’m in the minority for a reason. It wouldn’t be the first time that UCF made a major bowl in a new coach’s debut year. But either way, this survey has proven something that honestly isn’t that surprising.
Danny White may have left. Josh Heupel may have left. But Knight Nation’s sky-high expectations haven’t gone anywhere.