GUILDENSTERN: Happy, in that we are not over-happy; On fortune's cap we are not the very button.
HAMLET: Nor the soles of her shoes?
ROSENCRANTZ: Neither, my lord.
Now that we have some distance between us and the end of the 2014 season, it's time to look back and take stock. For many, it's hard to know how to feel - sure, the Knights "won" the American Athletic Conference. And it's better to win the conference than to lose it (especially in ridiculously dramatic fashion). But "American Athletic Conference Champion" is an achievement shared with Memphis and Cincinnati. And it's just not quite the same when 27% of your conference "wins" it.
Part of the trouble is that there's an inevitable letdown following your best season in school history. The 2013 season of course culminated in a Fiesta Bowl win over heavy-favorite and Big 12 Champion Baylor. Along the way, the Knights squeaked out games in exciting, uncanny fashion. There was "The Catch" by J.J. Worton. Breaking up a pass on fourth and goal against Houston. Beating #8 Louisville with a Bortles to Godfrey pass with less than 30 seconds left. The Memphis game, in which Will Stanback forced a fumble on a kickoff return - which was recovered for a touchdown - and Terrance Plummer picked off a pass in the endzone to seal the game.
This season the Knights continued to live on the edge, though fortune wasn't always with them. The regular season started with a heart-breaking loss to Penn State decided on a last-second field goal. It ended with "O Holy Knight," and the AAC-clinching play I'll never tire of finding reasons to include in posts:
In between, the Knights gutted out a victory in OT against BYU. And they locked up a win against Houston by forcing a fumble through the end zone for a touchback (at 1:30):
The game-saving play was made by Brandon Alexander, who had sealed the Houston game in 2013 by breaking up Houston’s pass on fourth and goal.
Luck wasn’t the only thing inconsistent for UCF this year. While Justin Holman showed tremendous promise at QB, and had moments of stellar play, he also made mistakes. He threw nearly every ball as if it had to go through a brick wall. And he threw four interceptions in UCF’s sole AAC conference loss (ever) against UConn.
Holman was not helped out by a revolving door on the offensive line. The Knights had to try numerous different combinations of players on OL, and none of them provided really solid protection. Though disappointing, at least none of this was a surprise – we knew it would be hard to replace nearly the entire OL, and even though Holman exceeded expectations (on balance, at least), Blake Bortles is a hard act to follow.
The surprise disappointment was at running back, where the Knights never found meaningful success. William Stanback tantalized us last year, in relief of Storm Johnson:
I thought Stanback would be a star once the training wheels came off this year. Of course, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. He missed time for injuries, played hobbled quite a bit, and never really got going this season. Here again, the OL didn’t do anyone any favors.
Not surprisingly, the wide receivers were excellent all year. Between this season and last year’s Fiesta Bowl-winning campaign, J.J. Worton, Rannell Hall, and Breshad Perriman, and Josh Reese ought to be considered the best wide receiving corps in UCF history.
The UCF defense was also great, and turned in a statistically-dominant performance. At the end of the year, UCF ranked #5 in total defense, #6 in rushing defense, and #9 in scoring defense. And they completely blanked rival USF, inflicting the Bulls’ first home shut-out their program’s history.
All of this was enough to take the Knights to a final record of 9-4 (after failing to complete a rally against NC State in the St. Pete Bowl) and a share of the AAC Conference title. It wasn’t a season for the ages, but UCF fans can feel satisfied. UCF is finally consistently winning or competing for conference championships and playing in bowl games. The Knights have now won nine or more games in four of the last five seasons. And when you’re a program with aspirations to grow, that’s the kind of consistent success you need.