Florida football was a disaster around the 2021 bowl season, but that doesn’t change the fact that the UCF Knights beat the Gators, 29-17, in the Gasparilla Bowl. At the time, UCF fans, players and coaches reasoned that the team had won an unofficial state championship following Florida’s season-closing win over Florida State and FSU’s victory over Miami earlier in the year.
On Monday, the Knights got the hardware to back up the claim. Each player received their own Gasparilla Bowl ring complete with a “#1” over the state of Florida on the side. It’s hard to imagine that the design was intended for anything but ruffling the feathers of the state’s elite.
Most college football fans in Florida know how this goes by now. It’s not the first time UCF has claimed a championship, and the fallout is expected. What fallout? Check the comments under any social media post involving the rings. They are guaranteed to be a steady mixture of Knight Nation poking the bear and Florida, FSU and Miami fans clinging to what used to be a clear three-horse race.
That conversation alone has helped the Knights surge in popularity throughout the state, but this stunt could end up helping the Gators.
Many have pointed out that Florida was a .500 team without a coach going into the Gasparilla Bowl. While true, it’s not a strong argument against UCF being the best team in the state. Dan Mullen’s presence is what got the Gators to 6-6 and Greg Knox was already the interim coach by the time Florida beat FSU. Delaying the coaching change wouldn’t have made a difference, but having Billy Napier at the helm should.
Napier has said from day one that he needed to change the culture at Florida to create a strong foundation for success in Gainesville. That culture shift seems to be coming along nicely based on early glimpses of the team during spring practices.
Mullen’s Gators didn’t lack pride, but they didn’t carry themselves like the dominant force in the state that should be regularly competing for national championships either (see 2020 LSU game). They’d likely shrug off the Knights’ rings and take little responsibility for the loss that allowed Gus Malzahn to place the order. That’s just the mentality the program was in under that staff.
Under Napier, the team should take it personally. The old Gators let that happen, but this version won’t. Let the Knights flash their rings and use it as motivation to not be in the Gasparilla Bowl, or its equivalent, next year.
UCF’s rings are valid. FSU made state championship rings following the 2015 season that ended in a Peach Bowl loss to Houston and Florida had some “SEC East Champions” rings made following a win over Iowa in the 2017 Outback Bowl. Are those also meaningless or “well-deserved,” as Jim McElwain said at the time?
The Gators lost, and any fans trying to discredit the best-in-the-state claim by saying “the state was weak” are saying more about their favorite team than the Knights. Let this be fuel for a rivalry that’s only going to continue to grow as UCF joins the Big 12 as soon as 2023. By the time the Knights arrive in Gainesville for a game in 2024, it could be an unquestioned battle for the state with FSU still on the schedule as well.
Until then, the Gators’ goal should be to make sure that they aren’t in a position to play UCF in a bowl game at the end of the year unless it’s in the College Football Playoff.
Gainesville barely makes top 10 on list of South's best college towns
Florida lands commitment from this underrated WR prospect
ESPN's list of teams in need a big 2023 recruiting haul includes Florida
Gators continue to standout for this 4-star defensive lineman
Florida rising in this 4-star wide receiver's recruitment
Let us know your thoughts, comment on this story below. Join the conversation today.