UCF looking to cap impressive turn around with bowl win
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) As much as they have tried, the UCF Knights have not been able to completely separate themselves from last season's disastrous 0-12 record.
It's always seems to come up.
The Knights are 6-6 under first-year coach Scott Frost entering the AutoNation Cure Bowl against Arkansas State on Saturday just a few miles from their campus at Camping World Stadium.
''I think it's exciting for the university to get back to a bowl game, it's great that it's here in Orlando,'' Frost said Thursday. ''We hope last year was a blip on the radar for UCF. I think we are heading in the right direction, there is no doubt about that.''
The results this season would certainly seem to support Frosts' belief. Aside from a blowout loss at Michigan in the second game of the season and a 17-point defeat on the road to American Athletic Conference rival USF in the regular season finale, the Knights were within a realistic shot of a 10-win season.
If that doesn't show the growth of the program from a season ago, junior left tackle Aaron Evans isn't sure what does.
''If you look at our record yeah, we are 6-6 but multiple games were lost in the last minute,'' he said. ''We could have had a 10-2 season. We were so close to having a really, really good season.''
The UCF players all credit Frost, who has won his team over by embracing the players he inherited and showing a trust and believe in them. While has turned to some freshmen like quarterback McKenzie Milton and running back Jawon Hamilton, he has continue to rely on veteran players such as senior running back Dontravious Wilson, junior defensive tackle Tony Guerad and senior linebacker Mark Rucker, who leads the team in tackles (88) as a first-time starter.
''He brought back the fun in the game,'' Rucker said. ''Last year it wasn't that fun to play, but this year we have a swag about ourselves. The defense and the offense are both having fun.''
Evans admits initially he was hesitant to trust Frost. But his genuine nature and willingness to connect with the players won Evans and his teammates over well before his high-octane offense did.
''He has really made a huge effort to establish a relationship with each and every one of us,'' Evans said. ''I think that has translated into how we played this year, how the team is growing. It's been fun. He's laid back, he's very dedicated, he's diligent and he pursues excellence all of the time.''
It hasn't hurt that the Knights have seen the results on the field, too. Now a win over a solid Arkansas State team that rebounded from a 0-4 start to finish 7-5 and with a share of the Sun Belt Conference title would cement the Knights' comeback season.
''We had a chance to win a bunch of games this year and we won enough to get to a bowl game,'' Frost said. ''But I expect our young players to enjoy this success and use this as a springboard to keep on improving. We are on the right track and we are going to keep taking steps in that direction.''