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UCF’s long road back features short drive to Cure Bowl

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If one looks hard enough, a feel-good story in the world of sports can be found. As bowl season is set to begin next weekend, one needs to look no further than Orlando and the Central Florida Knights.

Last year if someone talked about going bowling and UCF in the same sentence, the conversation would turn toward picking up a spare or rolling a strike. A nightmare 0-12 season in 2015 has turned into a 6-6 season capped off by an appearance in the AutoNation Cure Bowl against Arkansas State.

“We’re thrilled to be in a bowl game,” said first-year Coach Scott Frost. “Our guys have done a lot to earn a chance to play in the post season.”

Only seven teams before the Knights have gone winless in one season and qualified for a bowl game the next While they do not wish to make this a habit, the Knights are the last team to accomplish such a turnaround. They were 0-11 in 2004 and 8-5 in 2005.

The ride to Camping World Stadium will be short for the Knights, but they have already traveled the long road back to respectability. Frost is quite satisfied with the chance to play in Orlando.

“I think it’s wonderful that we get to play right here in the City of Orlando,” he said. “I think it’s going to give us an opportunity to have a lot of fans. I would love to see this team end this season on a good note.”

Hopefully the time off will be good for freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton. After starting strong, he finished the season with only one touchdown pass and five interceptions over his last five games.

Jawon Hamilton and Dontravious Wilson lead a rushing attack that ran for 25 touchdowns. Tre’Quan Smith had more than 800 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

Arkansas State comes in with a 7-5 record. Playing in the Sun Belt Conference, they were 7-1 in conference play.

After opening the season 0-4, the Red Wolves won seven of their last eight games to tie with Appalachian State for the best conference record.

Among their most impressive wins was a 35-3 thrashing of the Troy Trojans on the road. Troy finished 9-3 and is headed to the Dollar General Bowl.

The AutoNation Cure Bowl has a philanthropic side along with football.

“The Cure Bowl stands for something maybe a little more than most, to be a bowl that helps raise awareness and money for breast cancer,” said Frost. “That’s as good a cause as you can find.”

UCF and Arkansas State will go at it beginning at 5:30 p.m. on December 17.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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