Heupel made an immediate impact during his first year at UCF, leading the Knights to their second consecutive undefeated regular season and American Athletic Conference Championship. Heupel became just the third coach in history to lead a team to an undefeated regular season in his first year coaching. (Chris Peterson, Boise State, 2003 and Larry Coker, Miami, 2001).
Preaching a 1-0 mentality every week, Heupel’s fast-paced offense posted 43.2 points per game that ranked sixth in the nation with an average margin of victory of 20.5 points. The offense churned out an average of 522.7 yards per game to finish the season ranked fifth in the nation. The ground game set a program single-season record with 3,448 yards on the ground. UCF averaged 265.2 yards rushing per game, good for eighth in the country. Running back Greg McCrae became UCF's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2013 with 1,182 yards on the ground, the fourth most in program history.
The passing attack was also one of the best in country behind quarterbacks McKenzie Milton and Darriel Mack Jr. UCF averaged 257.5 yards per game and 29 touchdowns on the year, including 14.94 yards per completion for the ninth best mark in the country. The quarterbacks were effective, posting the 21st best passing efficiency mark of 149.71, while throwing just seven interceptions, the fewest by a UCF team in program history. The offensive line kept the backfield clean with just 19 sacks allowed on the season.
Not to be outdone, the UCF defense had a stellar 2018 campaign. UCF allowed just 22.7 points per game and ranked sixth in the nation with 28 forced turnovers on the year. The Knights racked up 8.2 tackles-for-loss per game, the fifth most in the nation, and had 29 sacks. Richie Grant led the way with six picks, the third most in the nation, while Nate Evans had a pair of fumble recoveries, including a 94-yard touchdown recovery against ECU. Second-half adjustments were key to the Knights’ success, as opponents scored just 8.5 points per second half, including 3.3 points per third quarter.
The Knights put a league record 17 student-athletes on All-American Athletic Conference teams. Milton became the first player in conference history to repeat as the Offensive Player of the Year. He, offensive linemen Jake Brown, Cole Schneider and Jordan Johnson, linebacker Nate Evans, cornerback Nevelle Clarke and safety Richie Grant earned First Team honors. Wide receiver Gabriel Davis, offensive lineman Wyatt Miller, defensive linemen Titus Davis and Brendon Hayes, linebacker Pat Jasinski, kicker Matthew Wright and running back Adrian Killins, who was also honored as a kick returner, garnered Second Team honors, while tight end Michael Colubiale and cornerback Brandon Moore achieved Honorable Mention status. Milton finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
UCF went 11-0 in the regular season, earning the American Athletic Conference East Division title and a sport in the championship game. The Knights came back from down 17 points to defeat Memphis in The American Championship, 56-41. The Knights earned a berth to the 2019 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, where they ultimately fell to LSU, 40-32, snapping the team's 25-game win streak.
Heupel was named the First Year Coach of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America and was a finalist for the AP National Coach of the Year Award, the Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year Award and the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. He led UCF to as high as seventh in both the AP Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll, the highest regular season rankings in program history. The Knights finished the year ranked 11th in the AP and 12th in the Coaches Poll.
UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel: "I'm extremely excited about the opportunity to represent UCF. What makes this opportunity so unique is the vision of the leadership from President John Hitt, Provost Dale Whitaker
UCF VP/AD Danny White: "I'm thrilled to welcome Josh and his family to UCF. I believe we've identified one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. His offensive system is very similar to what we've been running. I know he's going to utilize all the great talent on our roster and continue to add to it. He's no stranger to success, winning a national championship as a quarterback and leading a number of extremely high-powered offensive teams. Coach Heupel is in coaching for the right reasons. He cares about his student-athletes and that's one of the most important attributes I look for in a coach."
President John C. Hitt: "Josh believes in recruiting and developing well-rounded student-athletes. That's a perfect fit with UCF, the No. 1 public university in the nation for student-athlete academic success. Josh is an outstanding leader, competitor
Heupel came to UCF after serving as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Missouri for two seasons.
In 2015, prior to Heupel's arrival, Missouri ranked 124th in the nation in total offense (280.9). In 2016, the Tigers led the Southeastern Conference and were ranked No. 13 in the nation, averaging 500.5 yards per game. In 2017, Mizzou ranked eighth in the nation in total offense, averaging 502.2 yards per game. The Tigers were also 14th in the nation in scoring at 37.5 points per game.
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock blossomed under Heupel's tutelage. Lock led the SEC in passing as a sophomore, throwing for 3,399 yards and 23 touchdowns. He followed that up with an even stronger junior campaign in 2017, passing for 3,964 yards and an SEC-record 44 touchdown tosses.
Heupel served as assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Utah State in 2015. Despite the loss of their starting quarterback to injury, Heupel's unit improved from 81st nationally to 60th in scoring offense.
Heupel started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater. He was on a coaching staff that took part in back-to-back national championship games following the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Heupel helped mentor Jason White to the Heisman Trophy in 2003.
He spent the 2005 season at Arizona before heading back to OU as a full-time assistant.
He returned to his alma mater for the 2006 season and coached the quarterbacks for five seasons. Heupel coached Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy, Davey O'Brien and Sammy Baugh Awards in 2008. Bradford led the nation in passing efficiency that season and the Sooners tallied an NCAA record five straight 60-point games.
Heupel was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2011 and served in that role for four seasons. His 2011 offense ranked fourth in the nation in total offense and passing offense. The 2012 unit ranked fifth in the nation in passing and 12th in total offense. In 2013, OU led the Big 12 in rushing and total offense. In his final season with OU, the Sooners led the nation in fewest sacks and led the Big 12 and ranked 10th in the nation in rushing, as well as finishing 20th in the nation in scoring and 23rd in total offense.
National Championship Playing Career
Heupel was a national-championship winning quarterback at Oklahoma. He was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2000 while leading the Sooners to a victory over Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl, sealing the national title for OU. In 2001, Heupel was the Associated Press Player of the Year, Walter Camp Award winner, Archie Grifin Award winner
During his two seasons as the starting quarterback at Oklahoma, Heupel posted a 20-5 record. He passed for 7,456 yards and 53 touchdowns. Overall, he still ranks among OU's top three quarterbacks in passing yards, completions and touchdown
- McKenzie Milton (UCF) – 2018 AAC Offensive Player of the Year
- Drew Lock (Missouri) – SEC Single-Season Touchdown Passing Record, 43 (2017)
- Landry Jones (Oklahoma) – 2010 Sammy Baugh Award Winner; Finished No. 3 in NCAA career passing yards, No. 5 NCAA career touchdown passes
- Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) – 2008 Heisman Trophy Winner; No. 1 overall pick in 2010 NFL Draft
- Jason White (Oklahoma) – 2003 Heisman Trophy Winner
Heupel earned his bachelor's degree in business marketing from Oklahoma in 2001. He and his wife Dawn have two children – daughter Hannah and son Jace. Heupel is an Aberdeen, S.D. native.