Pitt to face UCF team riding nation’s longest winning streak
Central Florida coach Josh Heupel wants you to know his team’s game against Pitt on Saturday is the most important of the season.
Not because the Panthers are the only Power 5 school on Central Florida’s schedule (the North Carolina game was canceled due to hurricane concerns). It’s not because a victory will help improve No. 13 Central Florida’s national ranking. (It might or might not do that.)
So why the Pitt game?
You’ve heard this before, but here goes:
“It’s important for us because it’s the next game on our schedule,” he said.
But Central Florida’s big-picture story is worth telling.
The Knights will take the nation’s longest active winning streak (16) into the Pitt game after winning all 13 last season and finishing No. 10 in the final Associated Press poll.
Subsequently and without reservation, UCF claimed the national title and dared anyone to question it. After all, the Knights won their Peach Bowl date with Auburn, which defeated Alabama and Georgia — the teams that played for the recognized national championship.
How sure were players, coaches and fans?
University president John C. Hitt congratulated “our undefeated, national champion Knights” while announcing plans to hang a championship banner and pay coaches their national championship bonuses. Heupel tweeted about how excited he was “to defend our national title,” even though he had nothing to do with it after replacing Scott Frost, who left for Nebraska.
The players don’t talk much about, quote-unquote, repeating as national champions, but senior left guard Tyler Hudanick, a Seneca Valley graduate, said the team has goals but only “in the back of our minds.”
“1-0 is the only way we have a chance to achieve those long-term goals,” he said.
Hudanick, 6-foot-5, 312 pounds, said his time at Central Florida has been “a crazy ride.”
The Knights were winless (0-12) in his freshman season of 2015 and 6-7 the following year before starting their winning streak.
“(Heupel) and his staff have done a good job of keeping the culture that was established here,” Hudanick said.
Hudanick was not heavily recruited in high school, but he ended up at Central Florida thanks to FIU offensive line coach Allen Mogridge, who was on the Temple staff at the time.
Mogridge offered Hudanick a scholarship to Temple, but after that, the recruiting trail suddenly went cold.
“Time went by, and I didn’t hear from any other schools,” Hudanick said. “I didn’t hear from Temple anymore. I thought that was weird.”
Finally, Mogridge called back and said he had taken a job at UCF and invited Hudanick to Orlando for a visit.
“The location’s hard to beat,” Hudanick said. “We all know what the weather’s like here sometimes.”
Not long before Hudanick committed to the Knights, Pitt hired Pat Narduzzi, who was intrigued by the big guy from Butler County.
“I was always recruited by Pitt lightly,” he said of the staff that preceded Narduzzi. “The next Monday or Tuesday (after he committed to Central Florida), I was getting messages from Pitt’s offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator.
“I said, ‘You know what? No offense. It’s two weeks until signing day, and I’m pretty set on UCF. I’m all right.’ ”
Former Seneca Valley coach Don Holl — now at Gateway — remains close to Hudanick. His son T.J., a linebacker at Colgate, has the same initials and birthday (Feb. 1, 1997). In addition, both have two brothers.
Plus, Hudanick and Holl both aspire to coach someday. No wonder they’re best friends.
They also were teammates for one of Seneca Valley’s biggest all-time victories: 20-6 against North Allegheny in 2013. It stopped North Allegheny’s long winning streak against its rival.
“It’s one of the games I’ll never forget,” Hudanick said. “The crowd stormed the field.”
The game was preceded by a motivational talk by Hudanick to his teammates. Don Holl said Hudanick was a leader who only spoke when he had something important to say. That day, he did.
“He was more of an example guy. He wasn’t a loud guy,” Holl said. “The best guys at being vocal are the ones who are infrequently vocal.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review
staff writer. You can contact Jerry
at firstname.lastname@example.org or via