UCF AD sees promise fulfilled as Knights unveil championship banner

ORLANDO, Fla. -- UCF unveiled a 2017 national champions sign before its spring game Saturday, keeping a promise athletic director Danny White made after the Knights finished last season undefeated.

A few minutes before kickoff, the video board played season highlights, then another video with clips from UCF's 34-27 win over Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to cap a 13-0 season. Then a black tarp covering the sign was uncovered at Spectrum Stadium to cheers from the crowd.

White made national headlines after UCF's win because he decided to declare the Knights national champions, as the only undefeated team in FBS football. He promised parades and banners, and both have now happened.

UCF got a parade at Walt Disney World in January and a street party in downtown Orlando to celebrate, and national championship T-shirts were quickly printed up. National champion signage covers the fences around the UCF practice field as well. All that was left was placing the sign inside the stadium.

UCF fans in Central Florida embraced White's bold move, while others across the country questioned why he'd claim a mythical national championship when Alabama had won it on the field. The Crimson Tide beat Georgia 26-23 in the College Football Playoff National Championship a week after UCF beat Auburn, earning the trophy and banner that comes with it.

The Knights did finish No. 1 in at least one ranking -- the Colley Bias Free Matrix Rankings, one poll among many recognized by the NCAA that was formerly used in the BCS computer rankings.

White explained in January: "We're trying to build our program, and we feel very strongly as the only undefeated team, and having beat Auburn, who beat both teams competing for the national championship, that we have an extremely sound case to claim the crown."

As the sign was unveiled on Saturday, quarterback McKenzie Milton said he got goosebumps.

"Just reflecting on that and seeing some guys on the sideline, Tre'Quan Smith, Shaquem Griffin, Tony Guerad -- seeing some guys that have been through that with us," Milton said. "It's kind of cool to put that past us, too, by playing football, by playing the spring game. This is going to be the 2018 Knights, and we want to do something similar, and I think we have a great chance to do that."

After the spring game ended, players had another surprise waiting for them: their 2017 championship rings.

The ring not only is a reminder of what has been accomplished by this program but where players want to go in 2018.

"I said after last spring game, I think we can beat anybody in the country, and I'll take our ballclub against anybody in the country still," Milton said. "On both sides of the ball we can play with anybody. Whoever says that we can't, we'll line them up 11-on-11 and we'll see what happens."

Though new coach Josh Heupel wasn't with the Knights last season, he saw a determination among his players this spring to keep all their winning momentum going.

"I like what our team's doing," Heupel said. "They've enjoyed the success of what happened, and that is absolutely critical. At the same time, when they come into our building, they've had a great workman's attitude about pushing forward to 2018."