Welcome to the greatest weekend of the season, Husker fans.
It’s bye week!
There’s not even a chance the Huskers are going to lose another game.
And because we all need a second favorite team to root for so we can have a reason to avoid mowing the lawn for another week, I interviewed Austin Heffernan, a die hard UCF fan to get the scoop on the Knights football program and their currently undefeated season thanks in no small part to their upstart coach Scott Frost. (You may have heard of him.)
Speaking of Scott, I met Austin on Twitter the day he was hired away from Oregon. Somehow, we found each other’s tweets and traded some thoughts about Scott. (There’s a good chance I told him to make sure UCF takes good care of Nebraska’s next head coach. )
Anyway, Austin is a huge UCF fan and cheers for his other local teams in Florida. He’s the kind of ride or die sports fan any team would be proud to have. He was nice enough to answer all my dumb questions with some valuable insight about the Knights so you’ll enjoy watching UCF (and Scott Frost) take on Navy Saturday afternoon.
1. Along with being a UCF fan long before the Knights cracked the top 25, you’re a fan of your local teams across the sports spectrum which is something of a rarity these days as sports fans aren’t as tied to geography as they were before. As background, how would you describe your fandom and what it’s like to be such a dedicated fan of Florida teams? (For the record, I was pulling for the Marlins when they went on their late summer run.)
Austin: Growing up in Miami was really fun. In my younger elementary school days, I was blessed with nationally dominant Miami Hurricanes teams that set the city on fire. [Ed note: Husker fans remember the that 2001 team. Too bad you’re too young to have missed those 80s teams.] Rumor has it that those Hurricanes players from the early 2000s were skipping Dolphins players in the club. We then had the Marlins make their run in 2003 and the Heat in 2006 and also again in 2012/2013. Miami definitely has the most diverse sports fan base in terms of ethnic backgrounds. The best picture I can paint of Miami sports fandom is pots and pans in musical rhythmic unison while celebrating.
Since I moved to Orlando, I’ve been a part of the soccer movement and have attended a handful of Orlando City Soccer games. We have the 2nd highest attendance in the MLS despite not having made the playoffs in the 3 years we’ve been in the MLS. That has been a fun experience and celebrating a scored goal is unlike anything I’ve been a part of as a sports fan.
2. Florida certainly has its share of college football teams. What was it that made you pick UCF, or did the Knights pick you?
Austin: I decided to not attend an American school and I got into a school in Rome, Italy at the last minute. UCF still had open rolling applications and decided to roll with them instead. I was still rooting for the Canes up until the 3rd home game of my freshman year, where we beat Boston College by 40+ points. We ended up winning the C-USA championship that year and that season cemented my passion for the University and all of their sports teams.
3. In 2013, UCF went 12-1 and ended their season by beating Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl and finishing in the AP Top 10. Then in 2014 they when 9-4 and followed that up with an 0-12 season in 2015. Last year Scott Frost got things turned around and the Knights posted a 6-7 record. Now, they’re 5-0 and ranking in the top 20. What’s this roller coaster ride been like for you and how does it to have been on it the whole time?
Austin: The 12-1 year, or as we call it, “the dream season,” was my senior year at UCF. That year was so incredible and the campus was electric all the time. If you would’ve told me before I went to UCF that we would win a BCS game while I was there, I would’ve recommended you take me to the local mental hospital called Lakeside. The following year we won the AAC again but it took some miraculous plays, including the miracle we needed to clinch a share of the conference championship.
And then we hit rock bottom. Our head football coach at the time, George O’Leary, was acting as the school athletic director at the time. His attention wasn’t fully set on the team, and the team suffered mightily. Following that year, the Lincoln Legend himself, Scott Frost, made his way to UCF. Since we hired Frost, the football team’s confidence appeared to have instantly jumped to the ceiling. Since then, I’ve had no complaints and have been following along for this fantastic ride that I never want to end.
4. Two things Nebraska fans take a lot of pride in are a sellout streak that’s been going since 1962 and having a reputation as being the “greatest fans in college football.” How would you describe the UCF fanbase? Are there a lot of dedicated, hardcore fans like you, or is the bulk of the fanbase more casual? And how has the the momentum and energy been this season? Is the bandwagon running out of room?
Austin: The fan base is really young. The school opened up in 1963 so our alumni base isn’t as strong as most other schools. Orlando is mostly a Gator town, which makes it tough to get local non-students and non-alumni into the stadium. Last year, following a winless season, I was surprised at how many people were in the stands at all the home games. It made me proud to be a Knight fan to see everyone screaming at the top of their lungs despite the product the team produced the year prior. [Ed note: Just like Nebraska!]
5. The UCF program started out as a Division III team in 1979 and steadily worked its way up to Division !. What are some traditions, both for the program and during games, that the rest of the world should know about?
Austin: My favorite tradition is Spirit Splash. Every Friday of homecoming week, students gather around the fountain called the Reflecting Pond in the middle of campus and there’s a pep rally of sorts. Then a countdown starts, and all the students gathered around the Reflecting Pond run into it. A video will explain it better than I can.
6. What’s a game day like at Spectrum Stadium? How would you describe the atmosphere? And I gotta know, how did Zombie Nation’s song Kernkraft 400 become an anthem?
Austin: Tailgating at UCF is my favorite hobby. The whole campus is wet and you can bring an open container anywhere, so it makes for a great atmosphere. I actually have no idea how Kernkraft 400 became our pre-kickoff anthem but I just found myself joining in my freshman year back in 2010.
Austin: McKenzie Milton, our quarterback, has progressed in a way that I didn’t think was possible. He has brought life to the passing game, so I would definitely keep an eye on him. Tre’Quan Smith is probably our best wide receiver. I would also pay attention to our defense. A couple of players I would pay attention to are Mike Hughes, a cornerback, and Shaquem Griffin, a linebacker. Those two are both playmakers and will be huge factors in stopping Navy’s triple option.
8. Nebraska fans have prior experience with UCF when Dante Culpepper came to Lincoln in 1997 and roasted the Nebraska defense (we call them the Blackshirts) for 318 passing yards in what turned out to be a very close (by Nebraska standards) 24 – 38 loss. (Btw, Scott Frost put up 120 passing yards and ran for another 50.) Who are some of UCF’s other legends that Nebraska fans should be aware of?
9. What would you like to say to Nebraska fans (or Florida or Tennessee fans) who have their eye on Scott Frost? Do you think he’ll be temped to jump to a new program or will he stay put and keep building what he started?
Austin: This is a conversation UCF fans have been having frequently lately. It’s impossible to know at this point what the man is thinking. All that I know is that I will be OK with whatever decision he makes. He’s done more for this program than I ever expected him to do. I will always admire Frost, whether it is here or at another institution.
10. Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday? Do you think the Knights will be able to handle Navy’s option attack and a hostile road environment? Oh, and what did you think of Scott Frost playing QB on the scout team?
Austin: I think we have the personnel to stop the triple option and the offensive weapons to put up enough points to win. However, playing on the road is its own animal but Frost has our kids focused. Also, Navy’s Coach Ken Niumatalolo has his team playing as probably the most disciplined team in the country.
I’m predicting a 24-17 win for UCF.