For decades when SSG College Football fans discussed the game in the state of Florida it was always some combination of Gators, Hurricanes, and Seminoles that dominated the discussion. All of that of course changed in 2014 when the SSG’s University of Central Florida Knights quickly became relevant by winning the Cotton Bowl and finishing the season ranked 6th in the nation.
Since then, Central Florida has been not only the top team in their state, but aside from possibly the SSG Ohio State Buckeyes, the most successful program in the nation. UCF had a perfect 15-0 season in 2015 that culminated with playoff wins over the Buckeyes and the SSG Louisville Cardinals to win the first National Title in school history. After a down year the following season, well as down as an 11-2 campaign can be, the Knights decided to do it all again, finishing another perfect 15-0 season in 2017 and earning a second National Championship. Last year the Knights went 12-2, missed the playoff but finished the year ranked 5th following another Cotton Bowl victory.
So how about the state bragging rights? Well since 2014 UCF has 2 National Titles while the SSG Miami Hurricanes, Florida Gators and Florida State Seminoles have 0. UCF is 4-0 in playoff action. The other three schools are 0-2 (losses by Florida State in 2014 to LSU and last year in the semi-finals to eventual champion Ohio State.)
Here is how each of the Florida schools finished in the National Rankings over the past 5 years.
UCF rose very quickly from humble beginnings. The football program did not exist until 1979. In fact the school name did not even exist until that point when they change to UCF from Florida Technological University. The Knights did not move up to compete at the Division 1-A level until 1996. By 1998 a quarterback you might have heard of by the name of Daunte Culpepper led them to a 9-2 season and he finished 6th in the Heisman Trophy voting that year. They did not play in their first bowl game until 2005. In 2013 under the final year of George O’Leary’s tenure at the school (still pre SSG college football history), the Knights finished 12-1 in a season that culminated with a Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor and being ranked 10th in the final AP poll.
In 2014 the SSG history takes over under new Head Coach Delmar Simpson. It is also the freshman year for quarterback Jerrod Spillman at UCF. Spillman was out of Leesburg, Georgia and ranked 145th in his recruiting class. Spillman would start all four years at UCF, win a pair of National Titles with Coach Simpson and be named the Most Outstanding Senior Quarterback in 2017. His 118 career touchdown passes are the third highest total in the modern era (post 2013) and he graduates with a 52-4 career record in games he started.
The other key piece in the rise of the Knights was running Brenton Grove. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner was also a freshman alongside Spillman in 2014, although Grove was a much more sought after recruit – ranked 61st in his class out of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Grove would rush for 5450 yards and 68 touchdowns in his career. An injury cost Grove much of the 2016 season which, had he been healthy, perhaps we would be talking about 3 straight unbeaten seasons for UCF.
Florida schools have often played a role in the National Title picture but it is clear that the king of the state is now the Knights, although we have no way of knowing for sure as, so far at least, none of the other Big 3 Florida schools have played UCF in the modern era and unless they meet in the post-season, none are scheduled to in 2019.