Cult Classics: The MVP of the 2017 USF-UCF barnburner didn't even play in the game
Life without sports got you down? Do you feel drowsy? Listless? Do you have less energy in the gym (and bedroom)? Well we have good news, fellow sufferers: Just because sports aren’t on, doesn’t mean you can’t watch sports. At least according to Cult Classics, a new weekly section where we will dive headlong into our favorite, forgotten sports moments of yesteryear, analyzing what makes them so great, why they still matter, and, most importantly, where we go from here. This week we’re watching...
2017, Week 13: South Florida at No. 15 UCF
The Date: November 24, 2017
What You Probably Remember: The absolutely heart-stopping fourth quarter
What You Probably Don't: The game's MVP didn't actually play in the game
What Actually Happened: Perhaps the most underrated game in college football history happened, as well as the true introduction of one of the best young play-by-play voices in sports. Other than that ...
When this idea for "Cult Classics" was born, my brain immediately went to this game, one I'll never forget watching in real time from start to finish. As I recall, I definitely had the over, which obviously heightened the viewing experience but ended up not being necessary given how entertaining it was with or without money wagered on it. One of the key reasons for that, besides the actual back-and-forth play on the field, was some of the most electric play-by-play by ESPN's Adam Amin, the game's true MVP.
Amin was hired by ESPN to call college football and college basketball in 2011, but it wasn't until six years later when he really put himself on the map, and he had this game to thank. I'm not an Adam Amin historian, but I think it's fair to say this was, at the time, the most significant game he had ever called. Right from the start, he made the "War on I-4" feel big, which, despite having only eight years of history, it was, as it featured an unbeaten University of Central Florida team going up against rival South Florida, which was 9-1 up to that point. The winner would not only advance to the AAC Conference Championship game, but put themselves in line for a New Year's Six bowl game.
This game also happened to be on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend, usually the leanest day of football in the T-giving weekend stretch. Thursday has three NFL games and the Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Saturday of 2017 had Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina, and on and on it goes.
Games that wouldn't be described as "marquee" are not usually reserved for Thanksgiving Friday, but that was not the case in 2017. All eyes of the college football world were on UCF-USF, meaning all eyes and ears would also be on Amin.
He delivered right from the jump, when South Florida quickly got six points on the board thanks to this ridiculous catch and run from Tyre McCants, who literally dragged a UCF defender into the end zone:
"INSIDE THE FIVE AND IN!!! WHAT A TOUCHDOWN!" What a start. What a call. It was right then when you knew you were in for a BALL game and a half in Orlando.
UCF answered right back with a 9-play, 68-yard drive capped off by a three-yard rushing touchdown from McKenzie Milton, who was in the midst of a career year as a sophomore. Milton backed up his sophomore year with another stellar one as a junior, but, as you may know, that season was cut short when he suffered a gruesome leg injury in UCF's 2018 matchup with South Florida. The Knights entered that game on an absurd 23-game winning streak, which dated back to the beginning of the 2017 season. Even without Milton, who went down early in the second quarter of the USF game, they were able to extend that streak to 25 before finally getting beaten in the Fiesta Bowl by a school and a quarterback you may have heard of: LSU and Joe Burrow. Fortunately, Milton continues to make progress, though there is no telling if he'll ever be able to return to a football field, which makes watching his performance in this game a tad depressing.
Speaking of depressing, I'm reminded of how quickly things can change in the college football world. Scott Frost was the hottest coaching candidate in America after this game, eventually landing at his Alma Mater Nebraska, where he's gone 9-15 in two seasons so far. The coach on the other side, Charlie Strong, had just been fired by Texas the year before but bounced back with a 10-2 season in his first season at USF. He then went 11-14 over the next two seasons and was fired after last season. Anyway ... moving on.
Actually, I should also mention for the second time on the broadcast, Amin and his partner Dusty Dvoracek updated viewers on the status of the No. 2 ranked Miami Hurricanes, one of the four remaining unbeaten teams. They lost on Black Friday to Pittsburgh, 24-14. Since that day the Canes are 13-21 as a program. Like I said, things change quickly. Never forget the turnover chain, though.
OK, back to the game. After a huge stop on 4th and short, UCF took over on downs and marched down the field again. Once again, the drive was capped off by some Milton heroics, and another strong call from Amin:
USF looked like they'd quickly respond after quarterback Quinton Flowers hooked up on a deep ball with McCants again, but the drive ended with a missed field goal. Before you could blink, Milton and the Knights were back in the red zone and the other end of the field, and the Milton magic continued with a wild option play:
How many Xbox 360 controllers have been destroyed in rage over this exact play in the NCAA video game over the years? I can't tell you how many times I've gotten off an impossible option pitch in that game and caused my crybaby little brother opponent to promptly quit. Milton was a real-life version of a cheat code in this first quarter.
The Bulls punted on their ensuing drive, running the risk of getting run out of the stadium. But they got the quick stop they needed, then went on a 27-7 scoring run, which gave them a 34-28 lead late in the third quarter. The go-ahead touchdown was scored by Flowers, who pulled out one of the most NSFW touchdown celebrations that kinda flew under the radar. Watch closely to see if you can figure out what I mean:
A closer look:
Completely forgot about this. By the way, it happened a week after Baker Mayfield got caught doing something quite similar on camera. Big two-week stretch of NSFW, below-the-belt gestures in CFB. It helped that it was like the 10th craziest thing that happened in this game.
The score remained 34-28 until the 10 minute mark of the fourth quarter, when shit decided to hit the fan. This was when Amin was at his absolute peak, starting with a 45-yard Milton passing touchdown to wideout Dredrick Snelson:
After a USF punt with under five minutes to play, UCF appeared to apply the dagger with what Amin called "THE PERFECT PLAY." On 2nd and 10 at the USF 23-yard line, the Bulls brought the house, and UCF dialed up a screen for a TD:
The problem? As Amin's partner Dvoracek pointed out, UCF scored too quickly, leaving over two minutes on the clock for USF and only leading by one possession. Dvoracek's words proved prophetic on the very next play from scrimmage:
Pure insanity. Even better was the two-point conversion that tied the game:
Incredible. Flowers threw that thing from the 19-yard line for goodness sake. While there was still a ton of time, it felt like the only way this game could end was in seven OTs. But, as if the War on I-4 wasn't LIT enough, UCF returned the ensuing kickoff, causing Amin to lose his freaking mind / have a stroke. Make sure you stick around for the crowd celebration after this one:
"DO . YOU . BELIEVE IT?!?!" Honestly, at the time, no, I didn't. I remember watching with my brother and sitting in silence for about five minutes wondering what the hell was happening. It was a three-minute stretch of football that occurs only a handful of times in your life, and Amin seized the hell out of the moment. I'm not sure he would have survived had USF taken back the next kickoff, which almost happened before the return man was tripped up just before midfield.
Sadly, we were robbed of an even crazier finish when Bulls tight end Mitchell Wilcox fumbled after picking up a first down:
Brutal. If that name sounds familiar, that's because it's the same Mitchell Wilcox that got ROCKED in the face at the NFL Combine in February. Poor Mitch.
Wilcox's fumble was probably the best thing for Amin, who likely needed a full 24 hours of being a mute for his voice to recover after this one. Later the following year, Amin made waves again for his call of Notre Dame's buzzer-beating victory over UConn in the NCAA Women's Semifinal. The reaction video was priceless:
ND's Arike Ogunbowale hit another buzzer beater a few nights later, this time to win the National Championship. Amin brought the goods again:
Now, you can hear Amin on Thursday night games on ESPN with Pat McAfee and Matt Hasselbeck, a trio that quickly became one of the most fun to listen to this past college football season. Bigger and better things are ahead for the 33-year-old play-by-play man, and when they do just remember his true coming out-party, which occurred on November 24, 2017 in one of the more under-appreciated games in recent college football history.