SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ college football reporter Paul Myerberg breaks down the hottest headlines from Week 9.
USA TODAY Sports
UCF Knights head coach Scott Frost.(Photo: Tommy Gilligan, USA TODAY Sports)
ORLANDO — In his first days as the new athletics director at the University of Central Florida two years ago this month, Danny White embarked on a coaching search that focused on one particular type of candidate: coaches with backgrounds in an up-tempo, spread-based style of play.
His vision for the Knights’ football program was influenced in no small part by TCU, which had nudged aside in-state powers in Texas and Texas A&M and earned a spot among the elite programs in the Big 12 Conference by being different, particularly with its offensive approach. TCU, like UCF, was an upstart in a state rich in talent and bluebloods. It was an interesting case study to consider.
“If they would’ve tried to do that running the same stuff Texas and Texas A&M were doing, I don’t know if that would’ve been nearly as effective,” White told USA TODAY Sports. “I think a big part of their (TCU) national trajectory is they got really good in football consistently, and the way that they did that was in a talent-rich state playing a little differently.”
PLAYOFF RANKINGS: Notre Dame’s resurgence could create chaos
MORE: The top 10 college football games in November
BOWL PROJECTIONS: Clemson, Ohio State join the Playoff field
White’s search led him to Scott Frost, then an badistant coach at Oregon well-schooled in Chip Kelly’s spread scheme, and results quickly followed. After reaching bowl eligibility in his debut, Frost and the Knights enter Saturday’s matchup with SMU at 7-0, the only unbeaten team left among the Group of Five conferences, and ranked No. 18 in the first College Football Playoff standings, again atop the Group of Five.
But the success has come at a cost. In short order — quicker than even the most optimistic expectations — UCF is faced with the possibility of losing its second-year head coach to a Power Five program: Nebraska was the first name to pop on the radar, because of Frost’s background, but Florida has since become a second realistic contender following Jim McElwain’s dismissal.
Those two schools have their draws. Nebraska is home. Florida has the talent base and recruiting draw. There may be another choice, Tennessee, should the Volunteers decide to end the Butch Jones era. Frost will have no shortage of options.
“I’m not going to be in a hurry to leave a good situation,” Frost said to USA TODAY Sports. “One reason I took this job is that this place has a chance to I think maintain a level of competitiveness and excellence because of the advantages we have here.”
UCF, meanwhile, is doing what it can to keep the coaching staff intact. In the background of the greatest start in program history, White and the university are taking steps to maintain the status quo, hoping that increased salaries and new facilities will join Frost’s own track record of carefully weighing his future in keeping the second-year coach at least through the 2018 season.
Dating to Marcus Mariota’s final season at Oregon, when the Ducks reached the national championship game, Frost has been at or near the top of the most-wanted list for several job openings on the Group of Five level. That he waited for this current position speaks to some degree of foresight: UCF wasn’t only smack in the middle of some of the nation’s most fertile recruiting space but also coming off a winless season, handing Frost floor-level expectations heading into his debut.
“He’s just a level-headed guy. I don’t think he needs that big-school brand to feel like he’s doing important work and impacting the lives of young people,” White said of Frost. “And ultimately, long term, he can win at the very highest level and eventually win a national championship. You can do that right here. You’ve got the best recruiting base in America right in our backyard and a situation that’s growing really fast.”
The first step — and “the most pressing issue,” per White — is to increase the salary pool afforded Frost’s coaching staff, bringing that total in line with the Power Five level.
“I have every expectation that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” White said.
That increase has been on Frost’s own list of priorities since he arrived; meeting that wish would be positive in UCF’s favor.
MORE: Lane Kiffin is winning at Florida Atlantic and drawing attention
HEISMAN SURVEY: Oklahoma’s Mayfield closes gap on Penn State’s Barkley
COMMENTARY: Lyell: Few saw Jim McElwain’s other side at CSU
Simultaneously, the university has embarked on a series of upgrades to its athletic facilities. There are plans to remake the existing space behind the south end of Spectrum Stadium into a nutrition center for all student-athletes. There have been improvements to the existing field house across from the football offices. The largest project, a headquarters for the entire athletic department, will include new team meeting rooms, locker rooms and recruiting area. The goal is to convince Frost that UCF is a destination, not a stopping point.
“I think he can be the Bobby Bowden of this place, or the Steve Spurrier of this place,” White said. “We can every bit as good as Florida or Florida State, we’re just younger. The state is plenty big enough to have more than two or three major, national brands.”
But UCF is realistic: Frost isn’t staying here forever. At some point, whether it’s Nebraska, Florida or another, he’ll trade in the Group of Five for the Power Five, continuing a fast-moving coaching career that seems unavoidably destined for a high-profile promotion.
Just keeping Frost through 2018 could be a game changer for UCF, however. It would mean another season in this offensive system, with a more experienced cast of personnel and continuity among the coaching staff. If this season stays on the same path — UCF is headed for a New Year’s Six bowl — next year’s team will begin with the benefit of the doubt in the polls. Many non-major programs have burst onto the scene once; doing so twice, and in successive years, could dramatically alter the Knights’ trajectory.
“We’re confident that we’re going to build a heck of a football program, a nationally elite football program,” White said. “I think he realizes the potential to do that. I know he does.”
Last SlideNext Slide