Fighting for bowl eligibility this late in the year is not typically a good thing for UCF football, but this season is an exception. With their sixth win on the final week of the regular season, the 2023 campaign can be deemed a success in Orlando.
Their first campaign in a Power Five league has been a struggle, including a five-game losing streak to begin conference play, but struggle is par for the course in their situation. All four of the new teams in the Big 12 (Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, and the Knights) sit in the bottom five of the conference standings.
Of those teams, as of this writing, it appears UCF will be the only one who achieves bowl eligibility in this inaugural Big 12 campaign.
Gus Malzahn has a track record as a strong recruiter, and playing in a Power Five conference with increased exposure will only boost UCF’s ability to attract talent.
This program will climb the hierarchy in the conference in the coming years, but this is the time for growing pains. Rarely does a program jump a division and find immediate success in the fashion of James Madison this season. More often, it goes the way Cincinnati’s 2023 season has gone, in which the Bearcats are 3-8 overall and 1-7 in the conference.
If bowl eligibility in a program’s first year in the Power Five is a growing pain, that’s a good sign. It’s the kind of year programs hope for when they transition to a higher division.
UCF is a healthy program, and as they get set to go bowling, the future in Orlando looks bright.