Start Time: Saturday, September 24 at 7:00 PM EST
Location: Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium, Miami, FL
TV/Streaming: Streamed by beIN SPORTS (your source for CUSA football addiction, starting this year).
Radio/Live Stats: AM 790, live stats here.
Betting Line: UCF is a 5.5 to 7 point favorite, depending where you look.
Records: UCF is 1-2 and FIU is 0-3. Neither have started conference play.
All-Time Series: It stands even at 2-2.
UCF Outlook: This game is a must-win for UCF. For a program with the aspirations and recent (well, not last year) success the Knights have, you just cannot be losing to an in-state Conference USA opponent.
And you dang well can’t be doing it two years in a row.
FIU’s victory over UCF last year kicked off an utterly miserable season for the Knights. The Knights offense floundered and failed to convert third downs. FIU’s defense was tenacious. FIU came back from down 14-3 to win 15-14. Little did UCF fans know that things would somehow go downhill from there.
The good news is that UCF looks better than FIU and ought to win tomorrow. The offense has found a pulse. UCF’s running back rotation has worked very well with a mix of freshman Jawon Hamilton (a Miami guy!), the senior bruiser Dontravious Wilson, and opportunities for freshman speedster Adrian Killins. QB McKenzie Milton (another freshman) looks like the answer at quarterback despite his fumbles against Maryland. And for what it’s worth, Donovan McNabb (who’ll be a commentator on the broadcast) thinks he’s an upgrade over former starter Justin Holman or Nick Patti. He ought to be able to take advantage of FIU’s poor secondary and the defense’s difficulty in defending the option.
And if the Knights defense and guys like Demeitre Brim come to play, watch out.
Of course, when it comes to the Golden Panthers, I’ve been wrong before . . .
FIU Outlook: Here is the problem if you’re an FIU fan who wants to be optimistic. The Golden Panthers and the Knights have played a common opponent in Maryland. The Knights looked better than Maryland for long stretches, but eventually succumbed in double overtime and lost 30-24. When FIU played Maryland, the Golden Panthers got the doors blown off, 41-14.
On the upside for FIU fans, the advanced statistics paint a closer to even picture. Football Study Hall pegs FIU’s chance to win at 42%.
But the Golden Panthers front seven are going to need to stay disciplined to defend the Knights spread-to-run attack and Milton’s ability to move outside the pocket and make plays.
Likewise, FIU needs to get more out of its offense. RB Alex Gardner has largely been the spark for the Golden Panthers. He’s scored a touchdown in every game (oor said differently: ¾ of the team’s total TDs on the season) and rushed for over a 100 yards in consecutive games against Maryland and UMass. He’s going to need a big night against a UCF defense that has been successful against the run for much of games, but faded away as things have ground on. If FIU can jump out to a lead or at least keep things close, the Golden Panthers have a shot to grind out a win.