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How Far Can UCF Go Under Gus Malzahn?

How Far Can UCF Go Under Gus Malzahn?
Dillon Gabriel #11 of the UCF Knights drops back to throw a pass. Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images/AFP

Gus Malzahn had a lot of highs and lows as the head coach of the Auburn Tigers. He carried Auburn to the national championship in 2014, but multiple bad seasons became too much to overcome. After being let go as Auburn’s head coach, he found himself in Orlando as the head coach of UCF.

UCF has seen success since their claimed “national championship,” so the standard is high. With a proven head coach from the SEC, fans expect more greatness from their favorite team. However, is that expectation warranted? There is a ceiling when you are outside of the Power 5, and UCF knows this all too well. They have been left out of the College Football Playoff despite many successful seasons. Without the ability to play top-level talent and recruit the best players, there is only so much Malzahn can do.

Still, UCF has another well-respected coach who will get the most out of his team. With that in mind, what can we expect from UCF with Gus Malzahn as their head coach?

Where UCF Can Improve

Malzahn brings a solid reputation to the Knights. They will now be expected to win every game, even if that’s not a fair goal for them to have in 2021. However, what specifically does Malzahn bring to the table?

With his first few seasons in Auburn, Malzahn changed the way offense was played in the SEC. His ability to use a mobile quarterback led him to upset the Alabama Crimson Tide in multiple years. This might grow old in the AAC, but it could work for the first few seasons.

In most situations, it’s hard to expect much from a first-year coach. It takes a while to recruit your own players. However, that doesn’t matter as much in this instance. Malzahn elevates the talent on the roster and doesn’t rely on 5-star players. As long as he can get production out of his quarterback, the Knights could easily be top contenders in the conference.

However, Malzahn won’t have an idea of what to expect from rival opponents. The beauty of coaching in one conference for so long is that you grow accustomed to preparing for teams. You get in a rhythm, and that can lead you to upset teams every now and then. He won’t have that familiarity in the AAC, and that might limit how this team can improve.

The Schedule Will Matter

Malzahn is used to playing against SEC teams, but he also had more-talented rosters when he was Auburn’s head coach. He will know how to coach against the talent, but his own roster will hold him back slightly.

So, who does UCF play in 2021? The big games on the schedule are against Boise State, Louisville, Temple and Cincinnati. If they can go 3-1 in these games, they will have a successful season. The only issue is that they will have to top Cincinnati to win the conference. Even with +10000 odds to win the national championship, the Bearcats are easily the best team outside of the Power 5.

An early test against Boise State will be a good indicator for how this team will perform in 2021. A win there shows that they are bought into the Gus Malzahn way. A potent offense would prove that the talent needed to succeed is already on the roster.

So, How Far Can UCF Go?

Thinking that Gus Malzahn can send UCF to the College Football Playoff is ludicrous. The bias against the AAC can’t be fixed by one head coach. However, the Knights will compete in their conference once again thanks to this hiring.

UCF will be better. The only question is if they can get past Cincinnati in 2021. I think that has more to do with how the Bearcats look. They were one of the best teams in college football last year, and they bring back all of the key pieces to their success. Without a decline by them, UCF’s ceiling will be second-best in the conference with a decent bowl game.

If UCF can get past the Bearcats, they could easily make it to a New Year’s Six bowl game. That will happen over the course of Malzahn’s contract, but don’t expect it in his first season in Orlando.