Marc Daniels: Gus Malzahn's Plans For UCF's Program Doesn't Include This

Tulane v Auburn

The new UCF coach is not interested in P5/G5 talk. He doesn't care to engage in conversations about "possible" conference realignment. He has no time for things "that happened" at Auburn. Gus Malzahn only cares about what he can control, not the things he can't.

And with that, the new UCF football coach is telling you his plans for the program and where he wants to take it.

When Malzahn was hired by UCF he gave his reasons on why he took the job, what he knew about UCF's program and what his vision was on its future. 

At his introductory press conference, Malzahn talked about being a top-10 program, playing anybody at any location and recruiting like their "hair is on fire." He talked about building on what has been built by previous teams that have led UCF to three major bowl games in eight seasons and a brand that is now recognized throughout the country.

Now, just over a month into his job at UCF, Malzahn hired a staff, gotten to know his players, met with important donors and community leaders and did a broad media tour. But if you look closely, he's executing a game plan.

At Auburn, Malzahn would likely not do several things he is doing in Orlando. He has been all-in on social media and his staff is as well. He's hands-on about how his football program is presented and was fully onboard with the school's billboard campaign claiming itself as "The Future of College Football." He knows UCF is a different recruiting strategy than an SEC school. But his familiarity with Florida has Malzahn believing he can recruit at a higher level than perhaps recent coaches did. His relationship with high school coaches in the state cannot be underestimated and he has already opened doors to some of the power house prep programs where UCF has had little to no success in convincing players to think about the Knights.

But perhaps here is the change to recent philosophies at UCF, Gus Malzahn doesn't want to hear about what conference his football team should be in. He's focused on his program and not what league they play in. Yes, he knows UCF plays in the American and he knows the members of that league. But Malzahn believes he can build UCF into a top-10 program by winning. That's it. Just win games and lots of them. 

The first-year UCF coach has told people close to the program not to worry about labels such as G5 and what that means. He says if his team wins games playing an exciting brand of football and fans pack the Bounce House, the attention will come because UCF already has a brand that the college football world knows. 

Does that mean UCF has to go undefeated? Maybe, but that applies to almost anyone who wants to contend for the playoff or make a major bowl game. But Malzahn's point is if his team runs the table and finishes 13-0, it's likely ranked near or inside the top 10. The champion of the AAC has claimed the spot in the New Year's Six Bowl in five of the seven years, and four straight seasons, in the College Football Playoff era. The quality of the league has been established so there is an inherent benefit of being in the American.

As for scheduling, UCF needs 12 games over the next five seasons. That is a lot in the college football scheduling world. While new athletic director Terry Mohajir and Malzahn talked about playing the biggest programs anywhere and anytime, that reality is most of those schools have no vacancies on their schedule. Add the fact that UCF makes significantly more money for a home game than a big payday on the road and the reality is those games against major brands are not likely any time soon. It doesn't mean Mohajir and Malzahn won't try to find games with their many contacts. But UCF has had success in recent seasons finding opponents and there will be mid-level and lower level P5 programs that will need games because stuff happens and dates open up.

But understand, scheduling remains challenging for UCF regarding P5 opponents. For most middle and lower level P5s, UCF is a team to avoid. You can lose to them. A source told me recently one mid-level P5 program said they would not even take a 2-for-1 deal, with both games at their place, against UCF because it's a series you could lose all three. And most middle and lower level P5s are trying to get bowl eligible. So yes, it's possible UCF may have to add G5 teams to their schedule and likely will add an FCS opponent or two for the next few years. Don't freak out when you see that. Some of those games are designed to get on a future schedule but also have a low buyout figure in case you are able to get a P5 to replace them or move them to a future year.

UCF's 2021 schedule features games with Boise State, Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU. While not on par with an SEC West slate, it's enough that if Gus' Knights ran the table it would be headed to another New Year's Six bowl and that is the realistic goal. Whether or not UCF would or should be considered for the playoff falls into that category of things Malzahn can't control. But if you begin to become a regular in that major bowl game, at some point the playoff committee may have no choice but let you into the party.

That is why Malzahn is focused on what he can control. If he can recruit in talent rich Florida and put out an exciting offense and defense that plays in front of a packed stadium and wins a bunch of games, things will take off no matter the league you play in.

The new UCF coach has purchased a house in central Florida and is telling people this is home now and seems refreshed and excited to take UCF to the next level regardless of the labels people want to put on his program. As far as Gus Malzahn is concerned, UCF will determine who they are, not anyone else.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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