Getting UCF and Milton to Hawaii Bowl will take a Hail Mary
Let’s get this straight right up front: The chances of seeing Mililani’s McKenzie Milton quarterback so-far undefeated Central Florida in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve this year are a distant longshot the way things have gone.
But, then, wasn’t it not long ago when it seemed the chances of a 5-foot, 11-inch high school quarterback from Hawaii going 4,753 miles
away to a Florida school and finding quick national success were, well, a considerable longshot, too?
So raise an eyebrow but don’t be flabbergasted that ESPN Events, which owns and operates the Hawaii Bowl, says it hasn’t ruled out the possibility, however distant, of 14th-ranked UCF somehow, someway, finding its way to Aloha Stadium.
Again, it isn’t counting on it or promising it, but it isn’t ignoring it, either.
History tells us strange things have happened in the weeks leading up to selection days in the 34 years that this state has hosted the Aloha, Oahu and Hawaii bowls.
“How it (all) plays out, I don’t know, I’m not ruling anything out, but I don’t want anybody to misunderstand that a (Golden Knights) loss puts them on the flight to Hawaii,” said Pete Derzis, senior vice president, college sports programming and events, for ESPN.
Derzis said, “Their (UCF’s) goals are so high, to compete in the College Football Playoffs, that we’re sort of letting them play out, to be candid. If that were to change, I think everything is on the table.”
At this point, with two regular-season games and the likelihood of a conference championship game appearance ahead of them, odds are the Golden Knights will be playing in a bowl somewhere — Peach, Cotton, Fiesta … — on New Year’s Day.
UCF (9-0), the leader of the American Athletic Conference’s East Division, is at Temple (5-5) on Saturday and then concludes the regular season next week against second-place and 23rd-ranked South Florida (8-1).
The divisional winner plays West champion Memphis (8-1) in the Dec. 2 AAC championship game.
UCF beat Memphis 40-13 in September.
If the Hawaii Bowl was dreaming out loud early on, it would have been for a UH vs. UCF matchup. But, we’ve known for some time that wasn’t going to happen.
“Obviously without UH in the game, we know the challenges in terms of having an attractive match for the fan base, but our hopes are that we will be able to do that,” Derzis said.
So, an appearance by Milton, the national leader in passing efficiency, guiding the nation’s highest scoring offense (48.6 points per game), is the best Christmas present the game and its owners could hope for.
Hawaii fans never got to see Marcus Mariota in his record-setting years at Oregon, or Manti Te’o in his Notre Dame career, play a college game in Aloha Stadium, so a Milton appearance would be a welcome attraction.
It would definitely lure more fans away from the tree and dinner table on Dec. 24 than anything else ESPN’s contracts with the Mountain West and AAC could offer up. Colorado State-SMU or Fresno State-SMU are two possibilities being suggested in media projections this week.
Derzis said, “If UCF wins out they are going to the CFP and we’d be happy. Mark Milton is on our (Hawaii Bowl) executive committee and we’ve been following his son’s success with a lot of pride for Mark and the family. The (son) has had a great year and it is a great story.”
However the final chapter of this year turns out.