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Want to tune out UCF’s battle cries? Got to beat the Knights first

Fennelly: Like last year and the year before, Saturday’s big win (this one over Stanford) isn’t music to every ear.
UCF defensive back Aaron Robinson runs after intercepting a pass against Stanford during the first half of Saturday's 45-27 Knights win. [JOHN RAOUX  |  AP]
UCF defensive back Aaron Robinson runs after intercepting a pass against Stanford during the first half of Saturday's 45-27 Knights win. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]
Published Sep. 15

ORLANDO — The madness rolls on.

Want to put an end to it?

Beat them.

Want the cocky, irrepressible and unbeaten UCF Knights out of the College Football Playoff conversation?

Beat them.

Stanford didn’t come close Saturday at Spectrum Field. No. 17 UCF’s Bounce House bounced plenty as the 3-0 Knights rolled to a convincing 45-27 win. A statement against a Power Five team for the little train that could.

“A big win for the program,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said.

We can’t stop the train.

We can’t shut it up.

UCF and its boisterous Twitter fans may think they have the best team in the state.

Disagree?

Someone beat them.

Someone, anyone.

The University of Central Firestarter is again the lead fingernail dragging across college football’s blackboard.

Want it to stop?

Beat them.

UCF fans cheer during the first half of Saturday's game against Stanford in Orlando. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Instead, make it 25 regular-season victories in a row for America’s most overachieving — and annoying — college football program. UCF, infuriating UCF, might be at it again.

“Pretty straightforward today. We got beat by a very good football team,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Going into it, all this Group of Five talk … I don’t know what any of that stuff is. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. What matters is they’ve got talent, they’ve got speed. They’ve got playmakers and they’re a tough team … one of the best teams in America the last two years. They don’t need a statement win.”

Or maybe you’d rather be USF, where Charlie Strong needed a win over South Carolina State on Saturday — South Carolina State.

Or maybe you’d rather be Florida State, where coach Willie Taggart is so desperate that he brought Jungle Jim Leavitt back into our state. They’ll be dusting FSU players for Leavitt’s fingerprints before long.

UCF, meanwhile, could run the table this regular season and go 12-0 again. It could go 13-0. It could be in the conversation, albeit on the outside, screaming, which apparently is UCF’s role in life.

It drives people crazy, the people who say UCF, shut out by the playoff system, proclaimed itself national champion after its perfect 2017, complete with stadium signage.

It’s amazing sometimes how quickly the Knights went from a great story to a tired one, from darling to dastardly. Cinderella drives a steamroller.

UCF, for all its prancing, is the team people want to see lose as much as Alabama and Clemson. UCF has a chip on its shoulder and when it doesn’t, it makes one up.

Go away already.

No.

UCF is The Thing That Wouldn’t Die.

The Knights were perfect in 2017 and came close again last season before falling to LSU in a bowl game.

They will have to be perfect again to even have a CFP shot.

Can they just lose already?

They can’t.

People will join hands and try to downplay Saturday’s win. Stanford was coming off a drubbing at the hands of USC. It would take something extra to turn this into a statement.

Leave it to UCF.

UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) throws a pass as Stanford defensive end Thomas Schaffer (91) and defensive tackle Dalyn Wade-Perry (50) rush him during the second half. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

The Knights led 21-0 seven minutes in, guided by true freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who went to the same high school in Hawaii as UCF’s McKenzie Milton, who was tearing defense to pieces before he his knee blew up at USF last season. Milton helped recruit Gabriel to the mainland.

Gabriel was 22-of-30 for 347 yards and four touchdowns. That must be some high school. They’ll be scalping tickets to the 10-year reunions. Don’t be afraid, anyone, but Milton was never this good as a freshman.

“He was unflappable,” Heupel said of Gabriel.

It apparently doesn’t seem to matter who plays quarterback at UCF. The Knights are averaging 604 yards and 51 points per game. Heupel wouldn’t name his starting quarterback before the game. UCF likes messing with people. That includes you.

A cursory look at the Knights’ remaining schedule says they should be favored to win it all, including when USF skulks in over Thanksgiving weekend. Two years ago, UCF-USF was a classic. Now these are two programs on different planets.

UCF will need to win out and get a lot of two-loss Power Five help. The Knights’ best shot may have been 2017. But they may come close again, close enough for us to hear them banging on the door.

“Just win, baby.” That should be the UCF slogan, and it would be if Heupel was good at slogans. Or talking. Heupel makes his UCF predecessor, the guy who started all this, the laconic Scott Frost, seems like a song and dance man.

There are no words and music necessary at present. The song really does remain the same for Orlando’s hometown team, whether we like listening or not.

“I felt like we just did our job,” Gabriel said.

The little train that could barrels on.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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