Late interception seals Central Florida's undefeated season in Peach Bowl

Central Florida quarterback <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/ncaaf/players/270182/" data-ylk="slk:McKenzie Milton">McKenzie Milton</a> (10) runs out of the pocket against Auburn during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton (10) runs out of the pocket against Auburn during the first half of the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game, Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Central Florida’s undefeated season is a reality.

The Knights scored 21-straight points in the second half to separate from Auburn and beat the SEC runner-up 34-27 in the Peach Bowl. The win means UCF finishes the season 13-0 and is the second time a team from the American Athletic Conference has beaten a Power Five team in the Peach Bowl.

Houston beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl after the 2015 season.

The Knights went up 34-20 in the fourth quarter, but Auburn cut the deficit to 34-27 and had a chance when it got the ball back with just over two minutes remaining. The Tigers drove to the UCF 21 with 33 seconds left and UCF brought a first-down blitz. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham launched a pass toward the end zone where no Auburn receiver was located.

It was intercepted.

(Via ESPN)
(Via ESPN)

The man who forced Stidham to release the ball prematurely was star UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin. It was appropriate as the one-handed linebacker was all over the field Monday, disrupting Auburn’s offense on nearly every drive. Griffin finished with 12 tackles and a sack.

The win was the final game for UCF coach Scott Frost. The former Nebraska quarterback is heading back to Lincoln to be the Cornhuskers’ head coach in 2018. He was announced as Nebraska’s coach the day after UCF won the AAC title but wanted to stay on as the Knights’ coach through the bowl game.

Frost ends his UCF tenure with a career record of 19-7. It’s a pretty good winning percentage and an even more remarkable one when you consider that UCF was 0-12 in 2015, the year before Frost was hired. He’ll be replaced as the team’s head coach by former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.

UCF QB McKenzie Milton struggled throwing the ball early in the game but found his groove in the second half. His excellence was a big reason UCF took a second-half lead after Auburn was up 20-13. Milton finished the game 16-35 passing for 242 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 13 carries for 116 yards and a rushing touchdown.

Before the game began, Frost said his team had a shot if it played well up front on both sides of the ball. It did, especially on defense. UCF had five first-half sacks of Stidham and intercepted him twice. The Knights also forced Auburn to rely on the pass game. Auburn RB Kerryon Johnson had 22 carries for just 71 yards.

Auburn finishes the season 10-4 after entering the SEC Championship Game — where a win would have meant a College Football Playoff berth — at 10-2. UCF never got that close to the cusp of the College Football Playoff despite the undefeated season because of its residence in the AAC.

Will UCF’s perfect season give undefeated teams outside the Power Five conferences a greater shot to make the playoff? We’d love to think so but the answer is probably not. With the CFP committee touting advanced metrics and strength of schedule quality, the deck is stacked against teams who aren’t playing a Power Five conference schedule.

But UCF can at least say its the only team at the top level of college football that finished the 2017 season undefeated. And it did so by beating a team that beat College Football Playoff teams in Alabama and Georgia. That’s a pretty good case for the playoff, if only a bit late.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at nickbromberg@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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