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UCF seeks improvement at Michigan

Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire

For the first time since 2014, the University of Central Florida Knights earned some postgame happiness. Coming off a winless season, UCF defeated South Carolina State 38-0 in the Knights’ debut for Scott Frost, the former Oregon assistant.

At last, a real victory.

Now to the next task: Facing a real football team.

Saturday, UCF travels to meet Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines, a Big Ten Conference powerhouse and a real threat to make the College Football Playoff, before an expected 110,000 fans at the cathedral-like setting of Michigan Stadium.

“This is big-boy ball now,’’ Frost said.

So true.

Behind Harbaugh’s audacious leadership, the Wolverines have turned around a brand-name program that had stagnated, falling behind Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and other Big Ten programs.

Now Michigan is back in the big way.

UCF is seeking a similar turnaround.

The Knights hit their peak in the 2013 season, winning the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship and reaching the Fiesta Bowl, where they memorably took apart Baylor 52-42.

Last season, all that promise was ripped to shreds with an 0-12 season that witnessed the resignation of George O’Leary and the hiring of Frost, who brought a fast-paced offense, a collection of cool Oregon-like new uniforms, and some desperately needed energy.

UCF’s potential won’t be defined by its performance at Michigan. The barometer is again becoming a contender in the AAC.

Facing the Wolverines could provide a realistic road map.

“This game is on the schedule and I don’t want our kids afraid to play anybody,’’ Frost said. “I think our guys are excited to go up there, look that challenge in the face and take swings at them.

“We’re a young team in some spots and some of our kids are going to have to grow up fast. I want our guys to be confident. Regardless of the score at the end of the game, we’re going to come out of this game a better team.’’

No one in America expects UCF to upset Michigan.

Very few expect the game to be close.

Michigan just drilled Hawaii 63-3, providing the Wolverines the program’s largest season-opening margin of victory in more than 100 years.

“One thing you know about a Jim Harbaugh-coached team is they’re going to play hard and they’re going to be disciplined,’’ Frost said. “He’s the perpetual foot on the gas pedal. I don’t think he lets his players get away with much other than exactly what he expects.’’

01 January 2016: Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh during the 2016 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl between the Michigan Wolverines and Florida Gators at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

Harbaugh expects to win.

He expects to dominate.

Michigan fans respond to that.

Frost said UCF’s offense will be fine, even in a deafening din, because practically everything is communicated with signals. It’s no problem to utilize a silent snap count if necessary.

“Hopefully there’s crowd noise — and I hope there is because that means it’s going to be a good game — and hopefully we’ll be able to handle it,’’ Frost said.

The scoreboard is an obvious bottom line, but Frost said he’ll judge the game with many factors.

“To play with a team like this, you’ve got to execute at a fast pace,’’ Frost said. “You can’t not block to the whistle and expect a guy to get blocked. You can’t run a route without detail and expect to get open.

“I don’t think we’re going to line up, come off the ball and knock them back 5 yards every play. Execution has to be perfect. On defense, you have to be perfect on your assignment, 11 out of 11 guys (executing) to get it stopped. This is a good lesson for me because we need to know how crisp the execution must be in order to be a great team.’’

Frost said he expects UCF to develop into a great team, one that can annually contend for a conference title.

That’s the goal. It must be accomplished in increments.

Saturday’s game at Michigan is the latest challenge.

“It’s a whole different level of speed now (than the opener against South Carolina State),’’ Frost said. “I’m not as worried about the outcome last Saturday, this Saturday or next Saturday as I am seeing steady improvement. If we can do that, we’ll be on the right side of the scoreboard plenty of times if we can keep on the trajectory that we’re on.

“I don’t think our players will go to Michigan intimidated or scared. They’re going to go there fighting.’’

If Frost sees some fight, that’s a step forward, something to build upon. When you’re coming off an 0-12 season, you need wins — along with small victories.

UCF seeks improvement at Michigan

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