When the UCF Knights take the field in the Bounce House on Thursday, Gus Malzahn would have begun his 10th season as a head coach and also as a rookie for Orlando’s Home Town Team. But with this game representing the first full stadium capacity game since 2019, Malzahn’s UCF debut, New Year’s Six implications and the fact it’s a season opener, it could be one of the most hyped in the former Auburn signal caller’s career.
When asked where it might rank among the most anticipated regular season games he’s coached, Malzahn declared, “Boy, that’s a hard question for me to answer I’m just so wrapped up on getting ready. It’s a big one there’s no doubt.”
While it might be fair to claim that the coach might be giving a “political” answer, it’s also just as possible that his focus on preparation is proof of the significance of this first game of the 2021 regular season.
Coach Malzahn pointed out that the key to winning season-opening contests, especially against teams as experienced as Boise State is with nine players returning on both offense and defense, is to remain flexible and adjust while also eliminating any mental errors to prevent the Knights from beating themselves. After all, a team’s first game is always the one with the least amount of current film to prepare.
A victory for either team could have an impact later in the year when it comes time to decide who should represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Should UCF falter against the Broncos and remain undefeated the rest of the year (which most predict will require beating #8 Cincinnati twice to win the American Athletic Conference) Boise State’s out of conference schedule is more difficult considering they face Oklahoma State and BYU as opposed to Louisville and Bethune Cookman. This might give some advantage to the Blue and Orange compared to the Knights.
While UCF fans in that situation may argue that beating a team ranked #8 preseason as the defending conference champion in a better league than the Mountain West two times, a coach of Malzahn’s experience certainly knows how much better it is to leave it out of the hands of the committees and polls and decide it on the field.
But then we also haven’t mentioned how a win would be even more important beyond the 2021 season. Beating Boise State could help win the points in the court of public opinion when it comes to Power 5 conferences out there talking about offering programs bids for expansion (assuming any decide to do so).
While we don’t know much about the future of the college landscape beyond the eventual relocation of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC from the Big 12, it is important for UCF to look as good as possible now while those lines are being drawn if the Knights’ athletic director Terry Mohajir is truly targeting expansion.