Start Time: 8 PM ET, Saturday, October 7.
Radio: FM 96.9/AM 740 The Game
Live stats: http://gobearcats.com
Location: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Records: Of course, UCF is 3-0, 1-0 AAC. And if you’ve been reading our weekly Know Your Foes post, you’re also aware Cincinnati is 2-3, 0-1 AAC, with a loss to Marshall last week. Yikes.
The Series: UCF has a 2-1 edge. Last year, the Knights got to bowl eligibility with a 24-3 win. The Knights defense did some gloriously nasty things.
Betting Line: UCF opened as a 13.5 point favorite. Then the line moved to -17.
Feels good to see that ranking in the headline.
Been too long not to enjoy it.
You don’t need me to tell you again that the Knights have cruised through the season so far, rolling over a trio of teams that are undefeated but-for their games against UCF. And while FIU isn’t very good (though good enough to be leading their division), wins over Maryland and Memphis are quality wins for the Knights. A battle-tested team (despite not being threatened in the second half all year), the Knights should easily hit 4-0 for the first time since 1988 (the Division II era!).
The McKenzie Milton-led offense has been rolling. The defense has been excellent. The defensive line is mauling people. The linebackers continue to be great. Mike Hughes has been a revelation at corner, and the secondary is far more secure than it looked at the start of the season.
I expect the defense to be the reason the Knights put the Bearcats away early. UCF leads the country in turnover margin with an average of +2.33 per game. Cincinnati is tied for 77th in the country (with a bunch of other teams at) at -1. Likewise, the UCF defense has been brutal to opposing teams on third down. Opponents are a mere 8 of 37 on third down. The Bearcats rank a mere 99th in third down conversions; they convert only a bit more than a third of the time.
The Bearcats have had a rough start under first year head coach Luke Fickell. Cincinnati started the season beating Austin Peay by a mere 12 points. Then lost to Michigan by 22 after keeping it close for about three quarters. Then needed end-of-game heroics to beat Miami (OH). And then lost to Navy. And then lost to Marshall. By 17.
Cincinnati is an uneven team with a lot of young players. The Bearcats have the second worse offense in the American Athletic Conference. Quarterback Hayden Moore is inconsistent – he’s been good at times and struggled seriously at others. Nor can Cincinnati run consistently. The Bearcats are one of the worst teams in the conference in yards per carry with 3.5. If Cincinnati winds up down early (as I think they will), they’re not going to have a lot of ways to get back in the game.
Defensively, Cincinnati is vulnerable on the ground. Neither are they great at defending the pass, but they’ve had less occasion to be tested through the air.
Prediction: Cincinnati is not nearly as good as UCF. And the Knights haven’t given me any reason to doubt their seriousness or intensity against seemingly overmatched opponents.
So: no more. UCF by 24. At least.