TAMPA, APR 13, 2018 – Since UCF went undefeated last year in college football, many proud Knight alum have been stating their case they were indeed the ‘Co-National Champions’ if not TRUE National Champions in Football in 2017. After all, Alabama had the audacity to actually LOSE a football game… whereas the Knights were flawlessly perfect. Case closed… UCF should be crowned TRUE CHAMPIONS immediately.
OK… listen… that last statement is laughable. I’m actually from Orlando, spending much of my childhood in the region when Mickey Mouse and Space Mountain were in their infancy… when I-Drive was actually just ‘International Drive’ and it’s only real landmark was “Wet and Wild” and the Q Hotel… and the Florida Mall had a billboard promising it would “Soon To Open in 1976… 1977… 1978… 1980…” When it opened I actually couldn’t tell you, as I had already left Orlando for military service to my country.
As for UCF? LOL… I knew it as “Florida Technical University” and the college you went to if you couldn’t gain admission into a ‘Real’ school like UF, FSU, Miami, or somewhere out of state. Granted, that’s not the case anymore, as UCF is actually the LARGEST College in the state of Florida, with its alumni demanding respect from anyone within earshot.
So with this as our backdrop, is UCF actually a better candidate than cross-state rival USF to possibly leave for more lucrative conferences in their ever-evolving quest in expansion towards ‘Super Conferences’ the last several years… or in case you missed it, go ask yourself whatever happened to the “Big East” Conference. Of course, FOOTBALL is the driving force as it always is, the unstoppable ‘Bell Cow’ for money flow into any University.
UCF aka the University of Central Florida’s football program goes back to 1979, with an overall record of 244-209-1 or a .539 win percentage. Its program didn’t come to any prominence until Coach Gene McDowell’s 13-year tenure (1985-97) where he went 87-61 and a .587 win percentage. He was followed by Mike Kruczek, more well known as being a back-up quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Terry Bradshaw, but his six-year term was a respectable 36-30 / .545 win percentage.
The most well-known coach for UCF was George O’Leary, more for his ‘resume malfunction’ which prevented him from becoming the head coach at Notre Dame, but O’Leary did in fact put UCF on the map (somewhat) nationally with a 81-68 record (.544 win percentage). And yes, Scott Frost’s 2017 squad DID go undefeated, but don’t forget his 2016 team flailed at 6-7, so his two-year totals of 19-7 and a .731 win percentage is largely skewed. Frost is now followed by former Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel, a former-Heisman hopeful like Frost, who played at Nebraska and will now return to his alma mater under his former coach (and now athletic head) Dr. Tom Osbourne.
So other than quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Blake Bortles, running back Latavius Murray, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and defensive back Asante Samuel, are there any other well-known players from UCF? A good question indeed, with the answer certainly not warranting an immediate move ‘Up’ to a big power conference.
Now that we’ve had a short history of UCF, let’s look at Tampa’s own USF college, or University of South Florida. I always wondered why the school was annotated as “South Florida,” but that’s a topic for another time. South Florida’s football program history isn’t as long as UCF’s, as the Bulls started as an Independent in 1997, with two years in Conference USA (2003-04), before moving to the Big East. During this time, they were coached by Jim Leavitt, who probably would still be coaching the Bulls today if not for an unfortunate action, scandal, and cover-up which led to his eventual departure following the 2009 season. Leavitt’s 13-year record of 95-57 is quite impressive, and it was indeed under Leavitt’s tutelage that South Florida became a national program of prominence.
Leavitt was followed by Skip Holtz, who definitely didn’t have the same coaching swagger nor results as his famous father Lou, finishing his tenure at 16-21 and were some ‘lean years’ for the school. However, Coach Willie Taggart led their successful transformation to the American Conference… although he started out rocky with just six wins in his first two years. Taggart bounced back in his third year, winning eight, then 11 with a #19 Final Poll rating in 2016 before he moved off to Oregon. Charlie Strong took over in 2017 for the Bulls, and his 10-2 record looks to be a harbinger of great teams to follow. Overall, USF’s 146-105 record and .582 win percentage, along with famous NFL alumni such as Nate Allen, Kawika Mitchell, Mike Jenkins and probably the most well-known in Jason Pierre-Paul, would no doubt warrant consideration for a move to a ‘Power Conference’ as well.
So I leave it to you readers… who do YOU think would be a better candidate for a possible ‘upgrade’ in the near future? Your answer will ultimately be made for you IF and or WHEN you see one of these schools move from their present location in the American Conference to the SEC… ACC… or perhaps the Big10 or Big12. Until then, enjoy them in their present circumstances as you can, as the “War on I-4” will continue as is for the foreseeable future.
Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor