The sigh emanating from Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium Saturday evening was one of relief from the UCF contingent as the Knights snapped a 5-game losing streak, winning for the first time in 49 days by holding on to defeat the Bearcats 28-26.
Players celebrated on the field and in the stands with fans while coaches hugged one another.
“It’s been a long time coming, so it was good to get that monkey off our back with that one,” said defensive coordinator Addison Williams.
“It was a great feeling in the locker room,” said 5th-year senior offensive lineman Lokahi Pauole. “I know everybody in the fan base feels it. We’re going to start rolling now.”
It was also the first Big 12 win in the initial six tries for the program.
After weeks of being in games late but unable to finish, UCF (4-5, 1-5 Big 12) found a way to put together four quarters of football. It wasn’t pretty and some would argue that it came against the worst team in the conference — the Bearcats are 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the Big 12 — but a win is a win.
For now, the Knights hope to parlay that winning attitude into this week’s showdown with No. 15 Oklahoma State (7-2, 5-1 Big 12).
The Cowboys come to FBC Mortgage Stadium on Saturday (3:30 p.m., FS1) riding high after a 27-24 win over rival Oklahoma in their Bedlam Rivalry series.
“[They’re] one of the hottest teams in the country,” said coach Gus Malzahn. “They had a huge win last week over rival Oklahoma and Coach [Mike] Gundy is one of the best in the business. He’s been that way for a long time.”
Oklahoma State also features a dark-horse Heisman Trophy hopeful in running back Ollie Gordon II. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound sophomore has been exceptional, leading the nation in rushing with 1,225 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“He’s running like a man possessed right now,” said Williams.
While stopping Gordon and the Cowboys is the main objective for UCF this week, it’s hard not to see its impact on the bigger picture. If the Knights want to make it to a bowl game, they must win two of their next three games.
The includes games against teams with a combined 15-12 record, although only Oklahoma State (7-2) has a winning record, with Texas Tech and Houston at 4-5 each.
ESPN Analytics has projected the Knights to win two upcoming games.
They have a 51.7% chance of winning against Oklahoma State and a 75.7% chance of winning against Houston. The Red Raiders, on the other hand, have a 61.7% chance of winning.
UCF isn’t the only one needing a win this weekend.
Oklahoma State needs victories in two of its next three games to secure a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Cowboys face the Knights before traveling to Houston (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) on Nov. 18 and then hosting BYU (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) on Nov. 25.
It’s been two years (2021) since OSU last played for a Big 12 championship and more than a decade (2011) since the Cowboys last won a title.
UCF, meanwhile, hopes to carry some confidence from the Cincinnati win with them into this weekend’s game.
“It helps,” Malzahn said of winning Saturday. “Anytime you get that good feeling again … the look in their [players] eyes in the locker room, that was a real special deal and it helps get our mojo back a little bit.”
Added Pauole: “We lost that taste before with that little bad bend, but now we’re back on track. We can feel what it feels like to win again, feel that culture again and start playing UCF football.”