UCF Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton has yet to return to the field since suffering a brutal injury in 2018, and will now seek to continue his college career elsewhere as he prepares to enter the transfer portal on Thursday.
Milton led UCF to a perfect 12-0 record during the 2017 college football season and even lifted the Knights to a 34-27 victory over Auburn in the Peach Bowl to cap it all off. Unfortunately, his football future has been on hold amid recovery, but this news offers hope he may return to the gridiron in 2021 as a starter.
McKenzie Milton transfer: The makings of an epic comeback?
According to ESPN.com’s Andrea Adelson, Milton is aiming to land atop another QB depth chart since it’s become apparent the situation at UCF won’t allow him to ascend to that status.
While it may appear discouraging on the surface that Milton can’t find a way to start once more for the Knights, it’s not so much an indictment of the 23-year-old’s inability to play at a high level. Rather, sophomore signal-caller Dillon Gabriel has simply fared too well to justify taking a flier on Milton, who hasn’t played since November 2018.
Milton addressed this in an interview with ESPN, praising Gabriel but acknowledging he had his own goals in mind:
“The momentum Dillon has, I wouldn’t want any controversy in the locker room. He’s earned the right to be the starter here at UCF. I see that, and I feel it’s best for both UCF and myself that I move on elsewhere. I’m trying to chase the dream of playing in the NFL, so I’ve got to give myself the best opportunity to do that.”ESPN.com
Gabriel leads all FBS passers with 3,353 yards through the air, has thrown 30 touchdowns and guided UCF to a 6-3 record as of this writing, with each hard-fought loss coming by only one possession. Since Milton’s initial coach Scott Frost left for Nebraska, Knights successor Josh Heupel has hardly missed a beat at this booming program.
UCF Football also sent off Milton in style with an extensive interview and glowing tribute to him:
As Milton said, though, he’s ready to roll elsewhere for one last shot in 2021.
McKenzie Milton stats, accolades during UCF tenure
None of what’s happening at UFC now takes away from what McKenzie Milton accomplished. Achieving an undefeated season at any level of sports is impressive, much less in college football, where upsets are rampant. Plus, in the Peach Bowl, UCF had to duel with an SEC adversary, yet Milton and Co. rose to the occasion to keep their perfect record intact.
Milton really broke out in his second season as a starter during 2017, throwing for 4,037 yards on 10.2 yards per attempt, with 37 touchdowns to only nine interceptions. It’s not as if he was dinking and dunking the whole time, either, as his air yards per pass reached up to 11.1. The following year, he’d amassed 2,663 yards passing in 10 games with a TD-to-INT ratio of 25-6.
Always a threat to run the football as well, Milton compiled 1,078 rushing yards throughout his three years playing for UCF and amassed 20 touchdowns on the ground. His ability to run and throw efficiently made Milton a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate despite hailing from a less renowned program. In each of his last two years playing, the dynamic QB was named AAC Offensive Player of the Year.
McKenzie Milton’s 2021 outlook, best program fits
We touched on this earlier: Milton’s old UFC coach, Scott Frost, is at Nebraska — and the Cornhuskers have struggled to gain any traction ever since his arrival. Frost played quarterback for his alma mater during its heyday in the mid-to-late 90’s, yet it hasn’t been a sweet homecoming.
Perhaps Milton’s presence could change Frost’s fortunes and spark the Cornhuskers in the right direction. Even if it doesn’t mean immediately contending for a Big Ten championship, a reunion between Milton and Frost that taps into the magic they found at UCF would be among the most heartwarming stories in college football for 2021.
If he wants to try his hand in the SEC, Milton may instead opt to go to Ole Miss, where Jeff Lebby is the offensive coordinator. Lebby was on staff as quarterbacks coach and eventually as play-caller when Milton was on the field at UCF.
While either destination sounds nice on paper, it’s difficult to expect Milton to return to the form he showed before.
Due to the knee injury that required multiple surgeries, his mobility and athleticism could take a significant hit. Beyond those concerns, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound field general was undersized to begin with. Lower-body strength is key for generating consistent velocity and mechanics at the quarterback position, which is currently a red flag for Milton, or at best an uncertainty.
But based on what Milton said and his rationale for leaving the program he helped put on the map in a big way, perhaps he does have a shot in the NFL someday. He’s had plenty of time to recover from injury, has stayed active around the Knights and seems eager to prove himself. Given the competitive fire Milton has shown in the past and the potential familiarity factor at play, 2021 could be an epic comeback tale for one of college football’s forgotten superstars.