Preview: Knights Begin Hunt for Another Special Season

There's a towering new palm tree recently planted just outside the Spectrum Stadium press box entrance.
The forest-like smell of fresh mulch resonates all around the UCF home football facility.
Field painters worked all weekend to decorate the stadium grass with numbers, letters and logos
UCF football is officially open for business Thursday night when the Knights begin the 2019 campaign against Florida A&M.
And that brings back a flood of memories for three fifth-year veterans on the Knights' roster—offensive lineman Jake Brown (Encinitas, California), defensive back Nevelle Clarke (Miami, Florida) and defensive lineman Brendon Hayes (New Orleans, Louisiana)—because those three have seen it all in Orlando.
As true freshmen in 2015, they watched from the sidelines, working with the UCF football scout teams, while enduring an 0-12 season.
Two coaching changes later, the picture has changed dramatically.
Now, in 2019, Brown, Clarke and Hayes have an opportunity to help create a rare third consecutive unbeaten regular season, and maybe even more than that.
UCF has one combined loss over the last two campaigns. No one else in college football can say that. Upperclassmen on this Knights' roster have a 25-game win streak on their resumes.
While second-year Knight head coach Josh Heupel is quick to point out that this 2019 UCF version has yet to win even a single football game, it's remarkable what that trio and their teammates have done in a short time to change perception and expectations for a football program.
Brown says he, Clarke and Hayes still have their share of conversations about the broad spectrum of their journeys:
"We have a lot of stories from back in the day," says Brown. "It's a lot different now.
"We've been at the highest high and the lowest low. We talk about that first season (0-12 in 2015). That's one place we never want to be again. We remember what that was like."
And those three take great pride in the winning culture they've helped build and that now exists. Thanks in great part to the last two seasons, there's a major portion of the 2019 UCF roster that has minimal experience doing anything other than winning football games.
"The players now come into a culture that is so positive and where everyone is so willing to work," adds Brown. "That changes your point of view on everything you are doing. College football itself is hard, but this makes it easier.
"Coming in as a freshman, starting college classes for the first time and having all the positivity around the team—that's a big thing."
If Knights' fans had reason to wonder what UCF would do for an encore after its epic 13-0 run in 2017, Heupel, his staff and team had a ready answer. Just that quickly, that winning culture had been nurtured and continued. Now, 2019 provides another chance to add to that resume, beginning Thursday night when the Rattlers come to Orlando for the first time to face the Knights.
While UCF players say the loss to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl that ended that 25-game streak provides some sort of motivation this fall, it didn't mean the offseason failed to offer some additional highlights:
--UCF recently announced a sellout of its season-ticket allotment for 2019, a first for Spectrum Stadium.
--The Knights are the official American Athletic Conference preseason pick by the media to claim a third straight league crown—even if Memphis, Houston and Cincinnati (among others) expect to have something to say about that.
--UCF begins the year ranked 17th in both major polls—a highwater mark in Knights' history.
None of that guarantees even a single first down on the football field, yet (in total) it suggests that UCF has done plenty to build its brand and profile.
In their final go-round, Brown, Clarke and Hayes expect to do whatever it takes on the football field to continue that sort of good news.