Logan Berkowitz and his business partners started The Basement in downtown Orlando five years ago, when the owner of the dive bar below their nightclub, The Attic, relinquished the space and asked if they were interested. They were, and they started a downstairs companion to their club.
Most Saturdays, they were packed, especially in 2013, when UCF knocked off Louisville to win the American Athletic Conference, finished 12-1 and upset Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
"It was such a great feeling," linebacker Chequan Burkett, a freshman on that team, told Sports on Earth. "One of the greatest seasons in UCF history. We had such great leadership from guys like Blake Bortles, Terrance Plummer, Storm Johnson, Clayton Geathers. They're guys in the league now."
Two years later, the Knights stumbled to a 0-3 start, capped by a 16-15 home loss to Furman. Berkowitz, the managing partner and a former UCF student body president, noticed business had slowed to a crawl on Saturdays. What was once a packed house had dwindled to just 10-15 diehards coming to the bar to watch George O'Leary's team struggle. The bar was a sad place on Saturdays, and game days for the Knights weren't much better.
"We were faced with a lot of injuries early on," Burkett said. "We weren't together as a full unit. Some people played hard; some people were played just to get by. We had the athletes. Some games were close. We just couldn't find the strength to finish."
Berkowitz came up with the idea to offer free Coors Light to patrons from the moment the game kicked off until the final whistle. It was initially a half-hearted idea to give the bar a boost and have some fun in a rough year around campus. They figured the natural marriage between beer and college football would work, but they assumed it would merely last a couple weeks and attract a few more locals.
"And then we lost every game," Berkowitz said.
O'Leary resigned after a 59-10 loss to Houston that dropped the Knights to 0-8. The Basement's promotion soldiered on and turned into the defining story of the worst year in UCF football history. They showed up on "SportsCenter." Name a website that writes about college football, and "The UCF Bar Giving Away Free Beer" story made an appearance. It was everywhere, but the promotion did more than just give the bar national notoriety. The hype worked on the ground, too.
Once again, Saturdays were packed with fans tuning in, mostly to find out if the beer would still be complimentary a week later. Some fans didn't appreciate to the promotion, likening it to rooting against the hometown team. Others told Berkowitz he was encouraging fans to come to his bar instead of going to games.
"I'm like, 'Come on.' Our bar holds like 150 people," Berkowitz said. "It was wild how it really spread so quickly and how you could take such a bad thing in being 0-and-whatever and put a fun spin on it and keep people excited. The UCF athletic department would probably never admit it, but it's like, 'At least somebody's talking about us.'
"Even today, I'll have somebody come in from Nebraska or something and they'll be like 'Oh, you're the free beer bar!"
By year's end, they'd gone through 120 kegs at about $100 a piece.
Two years later, a new but familiar feeling is taking over the Orlando campus.
No college football team has been on a wilder roller coaster in the past five seasons than UCF. That 2013 dream season descended into a nightmare and a rebooted program in 2016, as UCF hired Scott Frost from Oregon after he helped the Ducks win 33 games in three seasons as offensive coordinator, reaching the national title game in 2014 behind quarterback Marcus Mariota's Heisman campaign.
Just two years removed from that 0-12 season, UCF is 5-0 with the nation's highest scoring offense, and it's a solid bet to edge out preseason favorite USF as the American champion and the Group of Five's representative in the New Year's Six bowls. This year's War on I-4 in Orlando on Nov. 24 could be the biggest in the history of the rivalry, with the Knights and Bulls still among just eight remaining undefeated FBS teams.
"I can feel the support building," Frost told reporters this week. "I can feel the buzz building around this place."
Saturday, UCF will travel to face Navy and its triple option attack in one of their biggest games of the season. The Knights have helped prepare with a 42-year-old scout team quarterback. That would be Frost himself, who helped Nebraska win the national title in 1997 running the option.
Who is that under center? pic.twitter.com/ECoiHFdYCw- Gerrod Lambrecht (@GerrodLambrecht) October 17, 2017
"I feel like option quarterbacks now are kind of like giant pandas -- they only exist in zoos and military academies now," Frost told reporters.
And, apparently, on UCF's sideline. Frost's real quarterback, though, is a far cry from his days as a Husker. He brought McKenzie Milton to Orlando from 4,640 miles away to be his quarterback at UCF and become the first Hawaiian to suit up for the Knights.
At Oregon, Frost was part of a program that embraced its "Win the Day" mantra under Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich. Frost is not a human slogan factory like P.J. Fleck or others in his profession, but he tweaked it for his message in his first head coaching job. He asks his players to "Attack the Day." His fast-paced offense and frenetic style made the Knights one of college football's most aesthetically pleasing teams, as well as one of its best. They debuted at No. 25 in the polls two weeks ago and floated all the way up to No. 20 this week, four spots behind Charlie Strong's USF team.
"It's been a lot of fun so far. We're off to a good start, but we're just getting started," Milton told Sports on Earth.
Milton drew comparisons in high school to Mariota, but as a 6-foot quarterback, he drew most of his interest from service academies and originally committed to Hawaii as the state's Gatorade Player of the Year. He caught Frost's eye after being named the MVP among 62 quarterbacks at an Oregon camp. When Frost was scrambling to piece together his first class at UCF, he gave Milton a call. After a campus visit, Frost convinced him to make the lengthy leap across the globe.
Milton planned on redshirting as a freshman in 2016, but he moved into a starting role when senior Justin Holman suffered a hamstring injury in a Week 2 loss to Michigan. Milton never gave it back, helping UCF reach 6-4 and qualify for a bowl game before losing the final three games of the season.
"To have that kind of turnaround, guys bought in," Burkett said. "This year, we're having a lot of fun. Everyone's enthusiasm is off the charts. Everyone's working their hardest and trying to be the best they can be. We're back together, playing as a family."
Of course, everything looks, feels and sounds better when you're winning.
In his second season as starter, Milton has been the picture of efficiency. He's completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two picks in five games. Only Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield has a higher passer rating and more yards per attempt than Milton, at 11.6.
Only Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have averaged more yards per play this season, and the Knights have beaten every opponent this year by at least 27 points, highlighted by a 40-13 beatdown of Memphis in Week 4, the same Memphis team that scored 70 points two weeks ago and has scored at least 30 points in every other game this season.
"I expected exactly what's happening. I thought we'd be really good and take steps from last year. We've been preaching that since the offseason," Milton said. "Everything's gone accordingly. We just have to keep working and we can't get complacent. We have a long way to go."
In four years, UCF has gone from Cinderella story to embarrassment and back again, enjoying a status as one of the best shows in college football this year.
Oh, and the free suds are still flowing at The Basement these days, too. Berkowitz and his partners rode the wave of publicity and secured sponsorships to make sure every game in their bar now includes free beer. Except now, it'd probably still be packed without their signature promotion.
But UCF is also coming face-to-face with the reality of life as a Group of Five power. Too much success, especially with an up-and-coming coach like Frost, means confronting the possibility he may be leaving soon. Especially when Frost's alma mater, Nebraska, might be in the market for a coach after the season.
The Knights are already gathering resources to try to make Frost's stay in Orlando a lengthy one, announcing plans on Tuesday to try to raise $1.5 million annually for a "Football Excellence Fund."
It's a familiar tale, but there are plenty of games to be won and trophies to chase before that day comes. It doesn't mean UCF and its fans won't do their best to keep him and embrace the program's resurrection.
"Our new promotion needs to be something to keep Scott Frost here," Berkowitz said. "It's going to be a sad day if he takes a new job and leaves. We'll come up with something,"
Maybe take up a collection each week and pass it along as a gesture of good faith?
"That's a good idea," Berkowitz said. "It would be pretty funny to send him a check for $247 every week."