ATLANTA – Forty-one degrees qualifies for cold here. So said the scarves and stocking caps swirling around downtown on Wednesday. The people carrying the World of Coca-Cola or Cartoon Network Store shopping bags – visitors taking home their slices of some of the city’s most well-known exports – seemed fine in a fleece or heavy sweater. Winter is relative.
Cold tubs are not. That’s real cold. They were also mandatory following 12th-ranked Central Florida’s first on-site practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in preparation for Monday’s Peach Bowl against seventh-ranked Auburn.
If 41 degrees registers as cold for those in central Georgia, it can be even worse for those players used to the Central Florida climate. They had to travel north to get there. Senior defensive lineman Jamiyus Pittman took one look at the post-practice cold tubs and tried to sneak away without taking his plunge. Knights strength and conditioning coach Zach Duval caught him before he could get away.
“At first I thought he was joking,” Pittmann said. “I saw that he was for-real when I tried to walk past it. I ain’t really cool with Coach Duval right now.”
Figuratively, of course. But routine is routine.
“I played in places like New York and Cleveland, and I watched the pros get in the cold tub even when it was 5 degrees outside,” Scott Frost said. “Our guys aren’t used to that, but they handled it well. We want to stay on our routine that is as close to what we used all season as possible. Part of that is helping our bodies recover. Monday’s cold tub.”
And Wednesday’s Monday in this twisted holiday timeline transported to a new city. Keeping the routine might be one of the biggest challenges facing every bowl team. Tonight the Tigers and Knights will race go-carts (serious ones at Andretti Indoor Karting). Tomorrow they’ll do a hospital visit and take part in a “basketball challenge.” On Friday they’ll tour the nearby College Football Hall of Fame.
Feel like a normal game week to you? The Knights said all of the right things about that. “We came up here to win a football game, that’s all we came to do,” junior offensive lineman Wyatt Miller said. “We didn’t come to shoot a basketball or race go-carts.”
Clearly Miller had been briefed on the week ahead.
But you never really know if that message will be applied until its game time. The Knights, however, should have one decided advantage in the distraction wars — their head coach. Judging from a handful of press conferences during UCF’s run from not-even-division-favorite to Peach-Bowl participant and his brief time in front of the cameras on Wednesday in Atlanta, ignoring distractions isn’t a challenge for him.
Frost heaped praise upon Auburn, “this is one of the best teams in college football,” but wasn’t willing to go into too much detail with a reporter interested in digging into just how the Knights matched up with the Tigers.
When asked if he knew what UCF would do in terms of replacing injured starting left tackle Aaron Evans, Frost said he did. When asked if he can announce who would be starting, Frost said he “could, but I’m not going to.” He wasn’t willing to name the best pass rusher his team faced this season, nor the defense that most resembled Auburn's.
And then there was this.
REPORTER: “As an offense that’s done so well throwing the ball deep, facing a secondary that keeps the top on the coverage very well, what are things you’ve seen on tape that maybe they’re able to do better than opponents you were able to succeed against this year.”
FROST: “Where are you from?”
REPORTER: “I’m from New York, but I cover Auburn.”
That exchange, more than any of the answers Frost actually gave, probably said more about how the Knights will prepare for an Auburn defense that is legitimately fierce, ranking ninth nationally in scoring, seventh against the pass (yards per play) and 17th in sacks.
UCF will do what it tries to do to every team. It will get in the cold tub on a Wednesday because, this week, Wednesday is Monday. It will go to the go-carts and shoot the baskets because they’re on the schedule, but the coaches and players will be thinking about football and talking about “team.”
And while the players might be a little more willing to entertain questions about the mighty Tigers, you can probably expect a little more of the cold shoulder from Frost when it comes to questions that could be perceived as implying UCF hasn’t seen a team like this in 2017.
That, too, seems like part of the routine.