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Perfect Season: UCF Beats Auburn 34-27 in the Peach Bowl

Find us a few rogue votes, because we’ve got your National Champions right here.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Auburn v Central Florida Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The UCF Knights beat the Auburn Tigers 34-27 in the Peach Bowl to cap their undefeated season.

The win is a complete vindication of a UCF team that deserved so much more respect than it received from the college football invitational[1] selection committee. The Knights showed up in a game that very few picked them to win (we did of coursewe actually watch the games). Auburn, which boasted two wins over number one teams, just couldn’t handle that AAC speed.

It didn’t happen in the way that anyone would have thought, however. UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton started poorly, passing inaccurately and losing a fumble. It was the Knights defense that showed up early and often. UCF rang up six sacks (on which Auburn lost a total of 48 yards) and won the turnover battle.

The most epic of those turnovers came when Chequan Burkett picked off Jarrett Stidham and returned it for six with 6:58 left in the game. It was a tremendous moment for Burkett, who has now gone full circle. He played on the 2013 team that won the Fiesta Bowl, was one of the few bright spots on the winless team in 2015, and now closes his collegiate career in stupendous fashion.

The emotional leader of the Knights defense, Shaquem Griffin, played out of his mind and was deservedly recognized as the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl. He led the Knights tonight with twelve tackles and had 1.5 sacks (tied for the most sacks on the night with Jamiyus Pittman). He also led the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. With this performance, Griffin more than cements his place as a UCF great.

The win was sealed by an unlikely player – freshman back-up defensive back Antwan Collier – who quashed Auburn’s last remaining hopes by picking off Stidham in the end zone. Raise your hand if you expected Collier to end the game (we’ll wait).

Though Milton was shaky in the first half, he picked it up in the second. The sophomore went 16-of-35 passing for 242 yards, ran for 116 yards (a career high), and accounted for three total touchdowns (two of them passing, and one rushing).

Game day head coach Scott Frost leaves the Knights on the highest possible note – the capstone of the greatest season in school history. Any lingering anxiety about his leaving to coach Nebraska should be banished. His successor Josh Heupel inherits a team loaded with returning players and which could be even better than this squad.

It’s impossible to overstate what this win means for UCF program. Four years ago, the Knights smashed Big 12 champions Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl (that was the biggest upset in BCS history). Just a few years later – with different coaches running entirely different offenses and defenses – UCF has found a new peak as a program. The ability to achieve these heights in close proximity and in radically different circumstances is a powerful statement of the strength of this program. UCF belongs.

[1] Oh no, I’m definitely not legitimizing the “playoff” committee today.