It's 2005 — Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim just created the video sharing website YouTube, Lance Armstrong cycles to his seventh straight Tour De France win and "Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" reaches box office success and critical acclaim.
Also in the mix, UCF is riding the nation’s longest active losing streak at 17 games as it faces Conference USA foe Marshall.
Coming off a winless season, then UCF head coach George O'Leary had his football team do something not many expected them to do, dominate and win. The result was a lopsided 23-14 victory over Marshall that ended with the field goal post on the ground, courtesy of the Black and Gold’s fans.
Fourteen seasons and one new conference later, the four-time American Athletic Conference Champion UCF Knights (9-3, 6-2 AAC) face the Marshall Thundering Herd (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa on Monday.
UCF junior wide receiver Tre Nixon said he feels excited to play in front of family and friends in Florida as the Knights search for their third 10-plus win season in a row.
“It would be really special,” Nixon said. “That’s something we really zoned in on – getting that tenth win, getting that double-digit season. Three losses, of course, was not our end goal but having a double-digit season is really good. That’s something we can look back on and say ‘we really did that’.”
Despite UCF being a favorite against Marshall, Nixon said it’ll take a committed effort to take down Marshall head coach Doc Holiday’s perfect 6-0 bowl record.
“You take it one day at a time," Nixon said. "You never overlook any opponent. During the season when we were on the road there were a lot of times when we probably thought we had the game in the bag but it slipped behind us.”
Marshall’s defense utilizes its size and length in the front seven to get to the ball while constantly stemming at the line of scrimmage to disguise its defense before the snap. Using a 4-3 scheme, Marshall’s run defense is ranked No. 35 overall in college football.
Over one-third of the players on Marshall’s roster hail from the Sunshine State, adding some flames to the fire in what some consider a virtual home game for UCF.
UCF redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Cole Schneider said he sees some similarities in Marshall’s defense when comparing it to AAC opponent Houston. Schneider said he learned a lot from the older players in the locker room and hopes their final game brings UCF another bowl win.
“It’s really special,” Schneider said. “A lot of these guys like JJ [Jordan Johnson] bringing me in, being here for 3 years has been awesome – being under his wing. I've had a great time with him as a friend and as a teammate. It’s going to be sad but at the same time I’m happy for him and everything that he’s done."
“I think every season is different so you enjoy every opportunity that you have together," Heupel said. "You understand that there is only one bowl game this season. When [the players] come in January the room is going to look completely different and that’s the great thing about college football, more opportunities for guys to grow into a leadership position and take over.”
UCF has an all-time record of 4-6 in bowl games since joining Division I competition. The team will travel to Tampa on Thursday where they hope to remake some of the magic moments from the 2005 game.
The Knights take on the Thundering Herd on Monday at 2:30 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPN.