The 1997 UCF Golden Knights football season was the thirteenth and final for Gene McDowell as the head coach of the Golden Knights. Assistant coach Alan Gooch was named the national assistant coach of the year in 1997, and on January 20, 1998, in the wake of a federal fraud investigation concerning improper cellular phone benefits and use, McDowell resigned as head coach.
UCF started to gain notoriety in 1997, playing a higher-profile schedule, including several SEC teams. The Golden Knights narrowly lost to Ole Miss on opening day, falling 24-23 in overtime. After a 2-point loss at South Carolina, the Golden Knights gained considerable national attention on September 13 at #6 Nebraska. UCF led the Cornhuskers 17-14 at halftime, earning congratulatory cheers from the Lincoln, Nebraska crowd. UCF, however, could not hold off the powerfull Cornhuskers, and fell by a final score of 38-24. After the game, Nebraska dropped a spot in the rankings, and UCF earned their first ever single vote in the AP Poll.
A week after the Nebraska game, over 41,000 showed up at the Citrus Bowl for UCF's home-opener against Idaho. The Golden Knights routed the Vandals 41-10 for their first win of the season.
At the end of the season, Daunte Culpepper set 15 school records, and was named a finalist for Davey O'Brien Award. He was also named a semi-finalist for the Football News Offensive Player of the Year. Hearing impaired tailback Dwight Collins received the Disney's Wide World of Sports Spirit Award, and running backs coach Alan Gooch who worked with him, was named the AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year.