Start Time: Saturday, September 3 at 7 PM
Live Coverage: FM 96.9 & AM 740 - Orlando
Location: Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, FL
All-Time Series: UCF won the only prior meeting between the teams, a 17-0 shutout, in 2008. UCF QB Michael Greco (who would later be converted to safety) played poorly and passed for only 90 yards. The defense carried the day, holding South Carolina State to less than 22 minutes of possession.
UCF Outlook: The UCF program and its fans are energized, and remarkably so for a team coming off a winless and joyless slog of a season in 2015. New Head Coach Scott Frost has done all the right things so far, and Knights fans will finally get a chance to see this team in a game situation.
It will look much different from the O'Leary era. Frost has imported the up-tempo spread from his time as offensive coordinator at Oregon. DC Erik Chinander has the Knights in a base 3-4 defense.
There's an interesting dichotomy with this team, which returns 10 starters on offense and 7 on defense. The Knights are still young at some position groups - wide receivers, running backs. And yet these are some of the more promising groups. Where the Knights can field older players, they have mostly not impressed to date. That includes the offensive line. And the secondary. And at QB where the Knights start Senior Justin Holman (who showed promise in 2014 before getting injured in 2015 and throwing twice as many interceptions as touchdowns) and Redshirt Senior Nick Patti (who, at least, has been serviceable).
I have to believe that UCF has progressed enough under Frost to handle South Carolina. But my crystal ball has been murky before when it comes to games against FCS schools from the Palmetto State ("The game against Furman is the only ‘gimmie' game left on the schedule [. . .] ").
For more on the Knights, our season preview is over here.
South Carolina State Outlook: South Carolina State is coached by Buddy Pough, an alumnus of the school. In his fourteen seasons, the Bulldogs are 112-51. Last year South Carolina State went 7-4 with a 6-2 record in the MEAC.
The team's strength last year was its defense. South Carolina State lead the FCS with 46 sacks. The defense averaged 15.2 points allowed per game. The Bulldogs return six players from that defense, but among those lost is defensive tackle Javon Hargrave who went in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft to the Steelers. He accounted for 13.5 of those sacks.
On offense, the Bulldogs return most of last year's offense, including quarterback Caleb York, now a sophomore. Keep an eye out for offensive tackle Javarius Leamon, a former Clemson commit (academic issues kept him from being a Tiger). He's a potential draft prospect himself and excels in pass protection.
The Bulldogs have been picked to finish a respectable fourth in the MEAC.