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What Defeating Florida Means to the UCF Program and Recruiting

Defeating the Gators would be big for the Knights along the recruiting trail.
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We have officially entered game week for the highly anticipated in-state matchup between the UCF Knights and the Florida Gators in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl.

A game that the Knights and Knight fans alike have been asking for and waiting on for quite some time. The sunshine state showdown is set to kickoff around 7:00 pm eastern time on ESPN at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

For a long time, the Knights have been on the outside looking in at what’s known as the state of Florida’s “Big 3” programs of Florida, Florida State and Miami. All three programs are in Power Five conferences and have a history of success so it’s understandable why they are known by that name.

However, with the recent struggles of all those programs and UCF’s recent success coupled with their move to the Big 12 conference in the coming years, the Knights have an opportunity this week to really kick the door down and make their presence known.

Of the aforementioned Big 3 programs, the Florida Gators are sitting on top right now and have been for the last few years. Though they ended this year’s regular season with a disappointing 6-6 record, they capped off the year by beating the Seminoles in Gainesville by a score of 24-21. A team that just two weeks prior beat Miami in Tallahassee 31-28.

With that being said, the Knights have a chance to stake their claim as the champions of Florida by this matchup with the Gators, solidifying themselves as the best college team in the state for the 2021 season.

But more than that, the part of the program that could benefit the most from a Knights win would be recruiting. UCF currently sits ahead of the Gators and Hurricanes in this year’s recruiting rankings with the 41st ranked class in the country and is on track to bring in one of, if not, the best recruiting class in program history.

In the past, other teams in the state of Florida have been able to pull a number of prospects away from the Knights even though UCF may have offered first. The “bigger” programs were able to come in at the last minute with the allure of playing Power Five football or just flat out saying that they are a better program and steal those recruits. And while the latter may still be true from an overall scope of program tradition and track record perspective, that certainly hasn’t been the case for the last 5 years or so.

Since Scott Frost took over at UCF in 2016, the Knights have compiled a record of 55-19, which is the best in Florida throughout that time frame, seven games better than the second place team which just so happens to be the Gators. Florida went 48-26 in that same stretch. And with UCF set to join the Big 12 in the coming years, that Power Five sales pitch will have to be thrown out the window.

If the Knights are able to pull out a victory on Thursday night, they could shake that stigma of being a non-Power Five program and really reap the benefits on the recruiting trail.

You will find me on Twitter: @CJ_Clarke1

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