The 1996 UCF Golden Knights football season was Gene McDowell's twelfth as the head coach of the Golden Knights. McDowell's 1986 team compiled a 6–5 overall record. The season marked UCF's first as a member of Division I-A, officially joining on September 1, 1996. At that time, the Knights became the first football program to play in four different NCAA divisions (III, II, I-AA and I-A).
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper led the team to rank 16th in the nation in passing offense. The Golden Knights won their first game as a member of Division I-A, defeating William & Mary. UCF dropped 6 of their next 7 games, however, and finished with a record of 5-6.
October 26 - at Georgia Tech: UFC gives George O'Leary and Georgia Tech a scare, but five turnovers thwarted any chance of victory. Trailing 20-7 early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Dunate Culpepper was on the sidelines with an injured shoulder. Strong safety Donnell Washington grabbed a mid-air fumble and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown to trim the deficit to 20-13. After another Georgia Tech touchdown, UCF scored a touchdown with 40 seconds left in regulation to make the score 27-20. An onside kick attempt in the final minute failed, and the Golden Knights lost 27-20.
November 9 - at UAB: Quarterback Daunte Culpepper has his best game of the season, completing 24 of 36 passes. He throws for 421 yards and three touchdown passes, as the Golden Knights win by the score of 35-13.