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Conference Realignment

Getting To Know The UCF Knights With Black & Gold Banneret

And yes, they remember the 2014 Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor.

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Members of the UCF Knights pose for a picture in the fourth quarter - Getty Images - Mitchell Leff
Getty Images - Mitchell Leff

New rivalry possibilities, division options, and what does the move to the Big 12 mean for the Knights? We’re getting to know UCF with SB Nation’s Black & Gold Banneret!

If you missed our post on getting to know the Houston Cougars, be sure to check that out as well when you’re done here.

A huge thank you to Jeff Sharon with Black & Gold Banneret for taking the time to speak with us. If you want to get to know the Knights, there is no better place to check out. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter too at @UCF_Banneret.


What was your initial reaction to hearing that UCF will join the Big 12?

IT’S ABOUT TIME! It took 25 years, but it appears UCF is finally on the level with the teams we have always thought we should be on the level of. We did the dance back in 2016 for this league, and when they decided not to bring us in, I honestly thought that there’s no way we’re getting into the only power five conference that can realistically bring us in. So screw it, AAC forever! But then the Big 12 presidents decided to pull together rather than tear the league apart, and invited us as the glue/duct tape to keep it together. We take this opportunity seriously, and I hope the other schools understand that.

What do you think the biggest adjustment will be for the program and for the fans?

Two things: The first, competition. Obviously it’s a step up. But that is a challenge UCF has always been up to. We nearly won the MAC and C-USA in our first years there, and won a BCS Bowl in our first year in The American.

The other is institutional knowledge. We are no longer going to be on the level of programs that are on an upward trajectory toward preeminence. Now we’re going to be keeping company with some of college football’s most established programs, historically. Our culture as a university has always been one that embraces being the new kid on the block and questioning the status quo. That may or may not sit well with the current membership. 

How competitive do you expect the Knights to be within those first couple of years?

UCF as a program is built to compete at the power conference level. The infrastructure is there and we’re in Florida, so the recruiting is also there. I expect the Knights to compete quickly. 

You mention the 2014 Fiesta Bowl win, which came at Baylor’s expense. What did that win mean for the UCF program?

The Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor was a revelation. That entire 2013 season was a long-promised glimpse into the future, as well as a fulfillment of the promises by various coaches, and administrators. And yes, fans had always said UCF was capable of competing at that level, but got laughed at about it. Then, in our first season in The American — and note, it was the last as a BCS conference, because remember it was the Big East — we beat Penn State in Happy Valley, won at #8 Louisville after being down 28-7 in the 3rd, ran the table in the league, and found ourselves in Glendale, AZ, where we were rewarded for our efforts with a 17-point underdog spread, and various pundits stating UCF would get rolled.

Then, we walk in and beat the ever-loving tar out of Baylor by dropping 52 on them. And that game was not as close as the score indicated. Having spoken in the years since to players and members of the coaching staff at the time, they said they could have really run it up on them in the second half, but George O’Leary decided not to out of respect for the Bears.

That game, and that entire season, holds a special place in Knight fans’ hearts as being the year we finally announced ourselves on the national stage as the program we always said we were, and the program we could yet be.

If you had to pick one Big 12 member you could see being a future rival, who is it and why?

Among the future teams, I think it’s Houston or Cincinnati. We’ve had several good matchups with both over the years with plenty on the line, and in Houston’s case it go’s back to the C-USA days.

Among the current eight, West Virginia seems like the likeliest rival. We’ve played the, before and the social chatter among the fan bases for both teams has been entertaining. 

What would be your preferred divisions?

I’ve seen four or five different proposals, but the one I think is a sneaky-good one is the North-South proposal.

North: BYU, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Kansas, K-State, West Virginia

South: Baylor, UCF, Houston, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech

I like the idea of the south schools in one division, and the great plains schools in the other. But then I could easily make the argument for an East-West as well.

East: Cincinnati, Iowa State, Houston, Oklahoma State, UCF, West Virginia

West: Baylor, BYU, Kansas, K-State, TCU, Texas Tech

This model preserves some old rivalries, and has the potential to ignite some new ones, especially from UCF’s standpoint. So, I’m torn. I think what we’ll have to watch is who the Big 12 decides to add in the coming years, if they do decide to expand. If say, Memphis and Boise State enter the fold, then I think it’s pretty obvious that the East/West breakdown would work the best, but that’s just me. Either way, I think it will be a lot of fun.

The Big 12 is traditionally known for its offenses. Tell us a little bit about the Knights offensive scheme, and how it could give the conference’s defenses problems?

Since the retirement of George O’Leary, UCF has undergone a few offensive reboots, but they all focused on the same end goal: scoring lots of points. Gus Malzahn’s system is more predicated on the run than Josh Heupel’s Air Raid, but it should fit in quite well with the rest of the league. 

Where do you think the new Big 12 sits among the power five conferences?

My rankings go like this:
1. SEC
(large gap)
2. Big Ten
(smaller gap)
3. ACC
4. Big 12
5. Pac-12

I am not convinced that the Big 12 is the weakest of the Power Five conferences after 2024. The Pac-12 still has a lot to prove after the upheaval in that league, and based on some interesting reporting by Dennis Dodd of CBS, it could be the weakest after 2025. The ACC is also almost entirely reliant on Clemson. Otherwise, it’s no different than the Big 12.

I also think the national media underrate the four new additions. But like I’ve said, we down here are used to exceeding expectations. That’s why I hope UCF’s constant chip-on-the-shoulder attitude filters into the other institutions in the league, because that’s part of the way the Big 12 can fight for respect among national media types.

Is there anything else…any general misconception in the media or just anything that you think fans should know about UCF?

I think there’s a perception that UCF as a school is a commuter school. It was, but it is no longer. It’s a massive state university — one of the largest in the nation — with 71,000 students, and a growing and vibrant student community. Athletically, UCF is still perceived as a “small school” that punches above its weight class. With this move, that perception should end for good. Also, Walt Disney World is 45 minutes away.