When Scott Frost arrives in Annapolis to lead his undefeated Central Florida Knights against Navy on Saturday afternoon, the spotlight on the second-year head coach will be as bright as it’s ever been.
Not only because the Midshipmen and their triple-option offense will be one of the toughest tests on No. 20 UCF’s schedule. It’s also because Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback and Oregon offensive coordinator who has turned around a program that went 0-12 the season before he was hired, has become one of the most-mentioned names in the college coaching rumor mill.
UCF entered Week 8 as one of just eight undefeated teams left in FBS — it is 5-0 for the first time since moving to college football’s top tier in 1996. The Knights boast the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation and are in a good position to be the Group of Five representative in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Frost has been linked most often to the not-yet-open head coaching job with the flailing Cornhuskers. Other programs are taking note.
“Scott and his natural connection to Nebraska has started a lot of that,” CBS Sports Network analyst Randy Cross said this week, “but this team has just really matured and started playing better and better. As that’s happened, all of a sudden it’s not just Nebraska, but Oregon State has to look at him . . . a lot of places have to look at him.”
Frost, 42, looks even more appealing after he spent the week filling in as the Knights’ scout-team quarterback as he tried to prepare UCF for Navy’s option offense.
The Midshipmen (5-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) have the top-ranked rushing offense in the country, averaging 397.5 rushing yards per game. Frost, who as an option quarterback had a 24-2 record as a starter and led Nebraska to a share of the 1997 national title, began acclimating his defense to its altered assignments during spring ball because there initially were two option teams on the schedule (a game against Georgia Tech that was scheduled for Sept. 16 was canceled because of Hurricane Irma). When it came time to drill his defense this week in practice, he stepped under center himself.
“I think it’s just a skill,” Frost said earlier this week at a news conference. “I can’t tell you how many repetitions I took and how many repetitions [Navy’s] kids get at the reads and the plays and running with the ball and pitching last second and the timing of it — it’s just kind of different from anything else that most people ask their quarterbacks to do.”
This wasn’t the first time Frost has taken reps with his team in practice. It’s a move that neatly encapsulates the energy at UCF, and the coaching staff’s dedication.
“I know one thing: If they’re gonna hit their coach when he’s running scout team quarterback, they better not go at him easy,” Cross said. “Scott’s a pretty big dude … and people forget that Nebraska, for all the defensive stuff, they’ve had some pretty good option quarterbacks. Scott still takes that seriously.”
UCF has heard the increasingly loud buzz about its young coach, too.
This week, Athletic Director Danny White announced the establishment of the school’s Football Excellence Fund, a campaign to raise $1.5 million over the next five years with a goal “to annually help provide operating resources for the Knights’ football program,” according to a UCF news release.
This comes after the school signed Frost to a contract extension in May on the heels of his inaugural season, in which the Knights went 6-7 and earned a bowl bid the season after going 0-12. The extension, which runs through the 2021 season, bumped his salary from $1.7 million to around $2 million — on par with Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, the AAC’s highest-paid coach — and increased the salary pool for assistant coaches by $50,000.
UCF can’t compete with what schools in power conferences can offer; in 2016, Mike Riley made $2.8 million at Nebraska, according to USA Today’s coaches’ salaries database. But White’s efforts help close the gap as Frost goes for the Knight’s first 6-0 start in program history Saturday.
“I think everything’s kind of gone as planned, and exceeded our plans,” Frost said this week. “One thing I keep mentioning, I took over this place when it was 0-12 … but when I met with the players here, they believed they could accomplish a lot more than that.
“We took a big step last year, and I knew we were going to be better this year.”
Whether Frost sticks around to see improvement in year three remains to be seen.
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