Last season, UCF was subjected to the reality of being a bowl-bound Group of Five team for the first time in a while. After spending the 2017 and 2018 postseasons going up against top tier SEC blue bloods, the Knights were reminded, with a 9-3 record, that even Top 25 mid-majors don’t get to go to fun bowls.
UCF ended up facing 8-4 Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl, a matchup that few were excited for and ended in a predictable blowout win. Such is the life for all G5 teams not headed to the New Year’s Six.
But, this being 2020, things are a bit different this year.
The Knights are headed to the Boca Raton Bowl, and they will not be facing another consolation cupcake opponent like last year. They will be facing the No. 14 BYU Cougars, a team with a 10-1 record whose only loss came to an undefeated Top 10 team.
In a year where UCF failed to meet expectations, lost to teams it shouldn’t have lost to, and saw a startling defensive regression, there are many reasons to be conflicted about this bowl game.
From one point of view, maybe another cupcake game like last season is exactly what the Knights needed to get back on track headed into 2021. Blow someone out, get your mojo back, and ride that high note into the offseason. Instead, UCF is going up against one of the best teams in the nation. And not only that, but another mid-major.
If this team loses to Cincinnati and BYU in the same season, it’s essentially admitting that it is no longer the class of the Group of Five, and has in fact been surpassed by a number of programs. Not to mention the fact that finishing with a record as abysmal as 6-4 is truly an unacceptable result for this team.
Ending the season playing some 5-4 Conference USA team doesn’t seem so bad now does it?
But of course, there’s the other point of view that can’t be ignored: The simple fact that this game could be the chance to right every wrong of this season.
If UCF goes out there and notches a Top 15 win, against a team that was at one point proclaimed by national media to be better than the 2017 Knights, then the many missteps of this year could be quickly forgotten. UCF would be 7-3, likely end up in the final Top 25 for the fourth straight year, and would have just sent a statement loud and clear to all of college football that this program isn’t going anywhere.
The cupcake win would be easier. This is certainly scarier. But at the end of the day, maybe this was a gift. The Knights get one final chance to redeem this season, one final chance to reestablish itself as a top tier program. You don’t get that against 8-4 Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl.