UCF Has Eyes on AAC Championship in 2017

Written by Brett Korpi
​Newport, Rhode Island – The UCF Knights made their presence felt at the first night of American Athletic Conference 2017 Football Media Days. On Monday night, what was a wholesome New England Style Clambake, turned into to an all-out eating competition between senior linemen Aaron Evans and Jamiyus Pittman.

The two monstrous teammates battled like they were in the trenches consuming 18 lobsters between the two of them. In the end, Evans, the returning left tackle, took down an event record ten lobsters. Pittman, the defensive line representative, was able to hold his own as he tied the old mark of eight lobsters. In all the contingent from Orlando ate 35 lobsters, 10-percent of the 350 whole lobsters that were artfully steamed for the event.

On Tuesday morning, when the UCF player group of Evans, Pittman, fellow seniors Shaquem Griffin and Jordan Atkins woke up looking over the scenic view of sail boats heading out to the Atlantic Ocean, they received news that they were picked to finish second in the AAC East division in the 2017 AAC Preseason Media Poll. The poll showed a considerable change in how the Knights are being viewed by the media members covering the conference.

In 2016, under first-year head coach Scott Frost, the Knights were picked to finish dead last in the AAC, following their 0-12 season in 2015. UCF responded by finishing the regular season 6-6 (4-4, AAC). Before, losing to Arkansas State in the Cure Bowl.

The players themselves are expecting big things from the team in 2017 and have their sights set on the AAC Championship trophy that stood just yards away outside the AAC Media Days conference room.

“The leadership group got together and decided pretty early that we want that conference championship.” A determined Evans said.

Griffen, the brother of former Knight defensive back and third-round 2017 draft pick Shaquill Griffen, feels that the AAC title is within reach. Moreover, that it is a full team effort and they will be relying on some of the underclassmen on the team to step up.

“The thing with our young guys, they listen.” Griffen continued, “For them to produce the way they have been producing while training, shows that we are going to go to a whole other level this year.”

While the players have high hopes for this season, coach Frost is just looking to see progress while he rebuilds this program.

“Improvement. I thought we took good first steps last year, but nobody was satisfied.” Frost said of his goal for year two. However, added to the conference championship talk, “I do not like big picture goals, but I also wouldn’t want to coach players that don’t have big aspirations like that, so I am excited to get to work.”

One thing that came across from the players is that they love their coach, and take pride in being a part of the Knights program under Frost.

“Coach Frost is doing an amazing job. He is bringing in the speed and power.” Griffen said of his coach.

The linebacker knows this is just the beginning though and is proud to be a part of the foundation of the program under the former Oregon assistant.

“Just to be able to say I was here when coach Frost started this off. That I was a part of changing the culture is a special feeling.” Griffen said.

Now, it will not be easy for the Knights. The team in front of them in the preseason poll is their rival University of South Florida. A team that finished last season 11-2 and beat UCF 48-31 last season. The Bulls have also brought in former Texas coach Charlie Strong.

That matchup is one that Griffen has circled. “Games against USF are the kinds of games that make you go crazy. The players are evenly stacked up, and I just think it is going to be very fun this year.” Said Griffen of the game that will be the last time he suits up against their neighboring rival.

Before the UCF plays host to the Bulls in the “War on I-4,” Frost, Griffen, Evans, Pittman, Atkins and the rest of the Knights will have 11 other games to play and how they perform in those games will determine if there is more on the line than bragging rights. Perhaps, a championship.

UCF will kick their season off on Thursday, August 31st, at 6:00 p.m., against another in-state rival, FIU, hosting the Panthers at Spectrum Stadium.

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