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UCF Knights vs FIU Panthers: Preview, Start Time, TV, Prediction

Scott Frost has a chance to make a statement against Butch Davis and the FIU Panthers.

Central Florida v Florida International Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Start Time: Thursday, August 31, 2017 at 6 PM ET

TV: CBS Sports Network

Live Coverage: AM 740/FM 96.9 The Game, (for, uh, the live stats).

Location: Spectrum Stadium,[1] Orlando, FL

The Series: 3-2 all time, UCF has the edge. Last year, the Knights crushed the Panthers 53-14 on a drizzling evening in Miami where UCF fans greatly outnumbered the home team.

Betting Line: As of this writing, UCF is a 17 point favorite.

UCF Outlook: This will be a better UCF team than the one that brutalized FIU last year. The Knights return many key pieces on offense last year – including sophomores McKenzie Milton (184.5 QBR against the Panthers), Jawon Hamilton (who had a largely quiet outing against FIU last time), and Adrian Killins, Jr. (who shredded the Panthers on relatively few touches - 6 rushes for 86 yards and 2 receptions for 69 yards).

But the overall question for the Knights is how much will the offense improve versus how much a defense that has to replace some of its most productive players could regress (though if you believe head coach Scott Frost, the defense could be even better this year). Keep an eye especially on the offensive line (which struggled badly as last season progressed) and the unproven cornerbacks who will face veteran receivers and a senior quarterback in FIU’s Alex McGough.

UCF’s defensive line is going to be a strength of the team (frankly, the entire front seven will be), and should be an interesting match-up against the Panthers’ veteran offensive line.

It’s a key win for UCF to pick up. The start of the schedule is difficult. After FIU, the Knights play what should be an excellent Memphis team, and P5 foes Georgia Tech and Maryland. UCF can ill afford a faceplant here.

FIU Outlook: The Butch Davis era at FIU begins! Davis of course had a stellar tenure at the University of Miami before going on to a stint in the pros and a 28-23 stretch at UNC – where he was canned amid NCAA allegations. His landing now at FIU adds to an impressive collection of head coaches at G5 Florida schools.

FIU fans will see if any of the old Butch coaching magic remains. The sixty-five year old hasn’t coached since 2010[2], so there’s certainly a danger of some rust, especially for the opener.

The Panthers are senior-laden. All over the two deep. It may, in fact, be the country’s most experienced roster.

NCAA Football: Florida International at Central Florida
Alex Gardner scoring a touchdown against UCF in 2015. Hopefully the defense is ready for FIU’s all-time career leading rusher this time.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

FIU returns McGough, seven of the top right receiving targets from last year, running back Alex Gardner (and the two backs behind him), and a veteran offensive line. If the mention of Gardner gives UCF fans shivers, that’s because he wrecked the Knights in FIU’s 2015 victory.

The cautionary note – this team may have experience, but the record of this senior class is a paltry 13-23. Though obviously, only a certain amount of that responsibility falls to these players.

Prediction: I believe this FIU team could have a decent season. But I don’t think it starts here.

The Knights defense will click better than most suspect (despite the vulnerability at CB) and the key pieces on offense will have finally developed to the point where we can see a Scott Frost offense running at a Scott Frost tempo. I’ll call it UCF 40, FIU 14. A big win, but perhaps not as gaudy as last time out.

But hey, I’ve terribly underestimated the Panthers before.

[1] Yes, formerly known as Bright House Networks Stadium. Sigh. This is the problem with the corporate sponsorships.

[2] Nope, not counting being an advisor for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2012-13.