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No one in the UCF Knight fan community will not take last week’s loss to Cincinnati as anything less than the pinnacle of disappointment for the 2020 season.
They will miss out on the AAC Championship Game, a shot at a New Year’s Six Bowl, and probably a place in the Top 25 rankings for the first time since 2016. But during this week leading into the season-ending showdown with their intrastate rival, the USF Bulls, none of that matters.
There’s been consistent mockery from both sides, ranging from the Bulls’ fans hyping up a time in the BCS era where they were #2 in the nation for a week to UCF fans questioning the “geographical correctness” of an institution located in Tampa referring to itself as “South Florida.” But aside from all of that, there is pride and bragging rights at stake afforded to the annual victor of what is known as the War on I-4.
But over and beyond that aforementioned prize, this year’s trophy game inspires Knight fans with something even greater than the chance to tie up the series at 6-6. UCF’s best storyline for this contest is the potential to see quarterback McKenzie Milton return to action.
It’s an epic tale that rivals the NFL’s Washington Football Team signal-caller Alex Smith. Milton’s version begins two years ago when an errant tackle shattered the lower leg of the Knights’ Hawaiian hero. While DJ Mack came in off the bench to win that game and eventually the 2018 American Conference under center, it was done with the theme of Ohana (meaning family) in the background as UCF managed to play their way into the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.
Two years have passed since that horrifying injury took place, comprising of a grueling journey of rehab and recovery. It would seem that the current starter, Dillon Gabriel, has hinted at the specter of his sideline mentor returning to the field two Black Fridays later, upon the very field where disaster struck.
When asked about the possibility in a Tuesday press conference Gabriel said: “If I was a UCF fan, I would want it to be a surprise. So I can’t say yes, I can’t say no. We’ll just see what happens. I know [McKenzie] is doing great mentally and physically and he’s ready to do so. I’m going to just let that be it and see what happens.”
While there’s nothing obviously present in those words, what was missing was Gabriel’s usually corporate demeanor as he cracked a cheshire-cat smile. While UCF as a program is generally tight-lipped about the health status of players, it is that little piece of body language that may have let the cat out of the bag.