UCF head coach Josh Heupel talks to Field Judge James Reif (left) during the UConn at UCF football game at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando on Saturday, September 2, 2019. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

By Mike Bianchi Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s over, UCF.

Your run of relevance and national prominence is now officially and exasperatingly over.

At least for now.

It’s one thing to lose to Power 5 Pitt.

It’s one thing to lose to nationally ranked Cincinnati.

But what happened to UCF on a floundering Friday night in northeast Oklahoma was inexplicable and inexcusable. John Steinbeck’s great novel, The Grapes of Wrath, told the sad tale of drought-stricken Oklahoma turning into a dust bowl during the Great Depression. Sadly, UCF’s season turned into a Oklahoma dust bowl on Friday night and UCF fans are now enduring their own great depression (how’s that for hyperbole?).

Losing to a 2-7 Tulsa team playing its backup quarterback in the second half was the most embarrassing thing to happen to UCF since the misappropriation of funds at Colbourn Hall.

Television network executives often describe the “Friday night death slot” as any television program scheduled on Friday evenings, typically between 7 and 11 p.m. It should come as no surprise that the death knell of UCF’s season came during this Friday night graveyard slot. UCF’s performance was so bad, it made me want to flip to the Cavaliers and the Wizards on ESPN. At one point, I even found myself on the History Channel watching “Ancient Aliens.”

In fact, I’m convinced that ancient aliens have kidnapped UCF’s football program and turned it into the inconsistent, up-again, down-again teams that the Knights were before those two magical unbeaten regular seasons.

The mistakes, the penalties, the undisciplined play made you wonder if Willie Taggart got fired at FSU last weekend and immediately began coaching UCF. The Knights committed a season-high 15 penalties, and at one point a handful of UCF defensive players had to be separated after getting into an animated argument.

Really?

Seriously?

UCF players fighting and arguing among themselves DURING a game? Hey, fellas, instead of yelling at each other maybe you should have been counting each other. UCF might have had one last chance to win the game with 1:04 left to play when they stuffed Tulsa on a fourth-and-1 run. However, the Knights were penalized for having 12 men on the field and Tulsa was then able to run out the clock.

“Everybody’s got to share in this one tonight and it starts with me,” UCF coach Josh Heupel said after the game. “I’m the head of the program and you have to point the thumb at yourself first.”

First and foremost, Heupel’s team has to clean up its act. The Knights had three turnovers Friday night; Tulsa had none. The Knights had 15 penalties for 120 yards; Tulsa had five penalties for 55 yards. UCF is among the most penalized teams in the country (115th out of 130 teams), which is no big deal as long as you’re winning.

When you’re winning and committing a bevy of penalties (UCF was 110th in penalties last year), you’re called aggressive. When you’re losing and committing a bevy of penalties, you’re called undisciplined.

The question on everybody’s mind is pretty obvious: Has the UCF bubble burst? The 27-game regular-season win streak ended six weeks ago. The 19-game conference win streak ended a month ago. After Friday night, any hope for a conference championship and New Year’s Six bowl game are gone, too.

And who knows if the losing is over yet? Let’s face it, if you can lose to Tulsa, you can lose to anybody. UCF could easily lose to Tulane in two weeks, and the USF game certainly doesn’t seem like a gimme anymore.

Memo to UCF players: Stay off social media because the haters are out in full force.

You know what all of the SEC snobs and Power 5 pundits are saying and doing, right?

They’re congratulating each other and laughing and high-fiving. They’re saying, “I told you so!” And they’re chanting, “Over-rated! … Over-rated!”

They’re claiming UCF’s two undefeated seasons were nothing more than a fluky phenomenon and now the Knights are back to reality, back to being just a middle-of-the-road Group of 5 team.

The Knights are, in fact, 7-4 during their past 11 games — not bad, but not good enough for what UCF is trying to build. You don’t expand stadiums and build lazy rivers for 7-4 teams. The Gators don’t schedule home-and-homes with 7-4 teams. Power 5 conferences don’t have discussions about expanding to add 7-4 teams.

Where does UCF go from here?

Can the Knights recover from this Friday night death slot and live to be nationally relevant once again?

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