ORLANDO, Fla. — Central Florida’s practice facility sits in the shadow of Spectrum Stadium.
There’s an indoor facility, but it’s gently used and currently under construction. Most UCF practices are held outside on the bright green grass. There’s a wooden tower in the middle of the two fields, and that’s where UCF coach Scott Frost watched and wondered eight months ago if his offense would be any good.
Frost improved the 0-12 Central Florida team he inherited to 6-6, partly because of his new style of spread offense that he tweaked from his mentor and new UCLA coach Chip Kelly.
And after that season, he knew he’d returned quite a few playmakers on offense, which was encouraging. But in spring practice, his offense hit a wall. Against the UCF defense, it couldn’t do a thing right. Frost mostly shrugged it off.
Then in fall camp, just weeks before the season, the problems became larger. His offense couldn’t move the ball. Could hardly score.
But in Week 1 of this season, UCF rattled off 61 points against Florida International. Then 38 against Maryland and 40 against Memphis, then 51, then 63. And soon, UCF was the No. 1 scoring offense in the country.
By then, Frost’s concerns for the offense were gone. And he realized with that offense, and a defense that could stop that offense, he really had a special season on his hands.
“I told the guys this season going from 6-6 to a nine- or 10-win team is harder than going from 0-12 to 6-6,” Frost said on Friday during a pregame press conference.
The No. 14 Knights (11-0, 8-0) reached 10 wins two weeks ago, and are on the cusp of 12 should they beat No. 20 Memphis (10-1, 7-1) on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference title game, which is being held at UCF’s home base in Orlando.
The title matchup is heightened by the job status of Frost, who quarterbacked Nebraska to a share of the national title in 1997. Frost is the favorite to be Nebraska’s next coach after the firing of Mike Riley.
Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos has acknowledged he reached out to Frost, and the ball seems to be in Frost’s court. Regardless, it is widely expected Saturday will be Frost’s final game at UCF after a remarkable two-year turnaround.
But the ever-growing cloud of excitement and mystery surrounding Frost isn’t affecting him or his team this week, he said.
“I’m staying dialed in this week by doing my job,” Frost said. “We got a great game plan. We got to execute it. We can’t beat Memphis unless we have 100 percent attention on this game and this challenge.”
Saturday’s matchup is between second-year coaches who have rejuvenated programs. Mike Norvell’s Tigers are 10-1. Their sole loss is at the hands of UCF 40-13. Central Florida has beaten Memphis 10 times in a row.
Norvell called Frost’s UCF team “a new standard” of football in the American Athletic Conference.
“Central Florida is a phenomenal football team,” Norvell said. “When we came in here this season, we saw a different standard. We saw what could happen if we didn’t play to the best of our ability.”
Stopping Frost’s No. 1 scoring offense gave Norvell headaches this week.
“Any team that’s played Central Florida has had the same headaches this season,” Norvell said. “As a guy who has an offensive background, I have a tremendous deal of respect for Coach Frost and what they do.”
It gave Frost headaches early, too.
They’re likely gone now. UCF averages 48.3 points per game.
And the worry is no longer about the offense, but finishing this thing the right way, Frost said.
“All I can tell you is everyone in our building is doing the same thing we’ve been doing for 11 weeks and longer,” Frost said. “Coaches are dialed in. Players are dialed in. This team wants to finish this off the right way. They’re going to get our best.”