Start Time: Saturday, October 29, 2016 at 12 PM ET/11:00 AM CT.
Location: TDECU Stadium
TV/Streaming: ESPNU and WatchESPN
Radio/Live Stats: 96.9 FM740 AM (Orlando) and KPRC 950 AM (Houston) for radio. Live stats are here.
Betting Line: Houston opened as a 12.5 point favorite, but that’s shrunk a bit to -9.5 now.
Records: UCF is 4-3 and 2-1 in the AAC. The Knights have already matched our prediction for total wins this year and have progressed farther than expected in head coach Scott Frost’s first year. The Cougars are 6-2 and 3-2 AAC – a fine record but terribly disappointing given the expectations. Houston is ranked #24 in the Coaches Poll.
All-Time Series: The Knights led the series, which stretches back to these teams’ Conference USA days, at 5-2. Last year Houston crushed UCF in Orlando, prompting George O’Leary’s resignation. The last time the game was played in Houston, the Knights prevailed when Brandon Alexander forced a Greg Ward Jr. fumble through the end zone for a touch back to preserve the lead. The latter result is a more typical UCF/Houston finish – games in this series have been tight historically.
Houston Outlook: It hasn’t been a happy three weeks for the Cougars. Houston looked like world-beaters after slapping around the Oklahoma Sooners in week one but seem to have faded of late. October was not kind: Houston was beaten by Navy 46-40, edged out Tulsa 38-31 thanks to some Herculean efforts, and was smashed last week by SMU 38-16. The Cougars look unlikely to recapture the AAC West from Navy.
Houston has nonetheless been the better of these two teams and ought to beat the Knights. But as last week’s surprising loss demonstrates, nothing can be taken for granted, even at home. This team’s state of mind is a big question mark.
But for what it’s worth, the advanced stats give Houston a 71% chance to win and predict a margin of 9.6. I’m not sure I like the Cougars’ prospects quite that much, but it feels about right. The Knights are a bit vulnerable to a mobile quarterback, and some of the things that sank Houston last week (two fumbles lost in the first four drives!) are unlikely to recur.
UCF Outlook: Last week the Knights rebounded from their earlier soul-deadening, last second loss to Temple with a come from behind win in
the greatest rivalry in college athletics an AAC East division match-up against UConn. It was a victory achieved largely on freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton’s arm (29/45, 317 yards, 3 TDs), as the Knights did not lean on the run as much as they have typically done. The game also saw freshman wide receiver Dredrick Snelson make an impact for the first time – the former four star recruit had five receptions for a team-high 63 yards and a touchdown.
SMU showed last week that Navy’s success against Houston was not an aberration. SMU capitalized on early turnovers, hounded Greg Ward Jr. (sacked 7 times), and had great success running and squatting on the ball. Could UCF do the same? Eh, maybe.
But the Knights have seldom put everything together at the same time this year. Their turnover luck has been mostly bad, and while the Knights have been successful running the ball, clock-chewing drives have not been their strong suit (Temple game, anyone?). Still, the Knights have done a fine job attacking the quarterback. Especially everyone’s favorite one-handed linebacker – Shaquem Griffin – who leads the team with six sacks and 9 tackles for loss.
It requires the Knights to play more mistake free than they have all year, but a win is certainly plausible (even if I can’t predict it’s likely).