UCF was founded in 1963 as Florida Technical University and became the University of Central Florida in 1978. In 1979, UCF played its first football game at the Division III level. The Knights played in their first FBS game in 1996. In 2002 UCF joined the Mid-American Conference, then in 2005, they joined Conference USA and finally in 2013 they joined the American Athletic Conference. Finally, on July 1, 2023, UCF made their latest move joining the Big 12, their first Power 5 conference.
The Knights moved around a lot in such a short amount of time. They are the youngest University of all the Power 5 schools. In their first season in the Big 12 conference, they were the only newcomer last year to become bowl-eligible.
So with Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC next season, the Big 12 is wide open and it is anyone's game. Some people would say Kansas State or Oklahoma State are poised to win it and while they are veteran schools in this conference, I wouldn't count out UCF just yet.
The Knights have the second-best 2024 recruiting class in the Big 12. They have also brought in 16 guys from the transfer portal including quarterback KJ Jefferson from Arkansas. UCF also has several returning players. Head coach Gus Malzahn has done a great job since taking over the program by elevating UCF's recruiting class and bringing in guys from the portal.
So why do I say UCF can make the 12-team playoff in 2024? Well, let's look at things. Malzahn's record at UCF is 21-11 with half of those losses from their first season in the Big 12 where the Knights got a good feel for how Big 12 football is truly played.
UCF also has some great players returning including wide receiver Kobe Hudson and running back RJ Harvey. Hudson had over 350 more yards with just six more receptions in his second season at UCF than his first. In his second season, Hudson recorded 44 receptions for 900 yards and eight touchdowns.
RJ Harvey is also returning for what will probably be his final season as a Knight. The Orlando native ranked third in rushing yards in the Big 12 with 1,416 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Harvey was the leader of a prolific run offense including rushing for over 100 yards in seven of his last eight games.
So again, you might ask the question, how will this help UCF in 2024? Well first let's look at UCF's 2024 schedule now that we have it.
Looking at the Knights' schedule, I think it is easy to say they will start 2-0 with their non-conference games. UCF will then hit the road and play TCU in Fort Worth, which while I think will be a tough test, TCU is a far cry from who they were in 2022 and the Knights will be able to beat the Horned Frogs.
UCF then gets to host their Big 12 home opener against Coach Prime and the Colorado Buffaloes who went 1-8 in the Pac 12 in 2023. It will be a tough game, but the Bounce House will be rocking and I think that will help the Knights to victory.
The games I think UCF needs to worry about will be the game at Florida just because that will be in the Swamp and Billy Napier needs to show results if he wants to keep his job. The game against Arizona will be a tough test for the Knights, but luckily that will be the annual Space Game which the Knights are currently 6-0 in Space Games. Finally the season finale against Utah, the fan favorite to win the Big 12 in 2024 will be tough.
My prediction is that if UCF wins the Big 12 they will definitely make it to the College Football Playoff, the committee can't deny them any longer. However, If the Knights make it to the Big 12 Championship game, they could have a strong case to make it into the playoff even if they are a conference runner-up. Even if the Knights just barely miss the championship game, if their resume is strong enough, it would be tough but they could also have a case to make it into the playoff.
UCF will be a team no one will bet on in 2024, but I just might take that bet. The Knights always seem to surprise people and I think Gus Malzahn has a few things up his sleeve for the Big 12 in 2024.