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UCF Knights Football 2018 Season Preview: Schedule Breakdown, Predictions & Analysis

A game by game breakdown of the UCF’s upcoming 2018 football season.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Auburn vs Central Florida Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

As we count down with only three weeks to go before college football kicks off the best season of the sports year, it’s time to take a look at the UCF Knights upcoming 2018 football season. Star QB McKenzie Milton returns as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Talented play-makers Dredrick Snelson, Adrian Killins Jr. and Otis Anderson, among others, also return in UCF’s UCFast offense under first time head coach Josh Heupel.

Here is a preview of UCF’s forthcoming season and the challenges that will await them as the Knights try to duplicate last year’s 13-0, undefeated National Championship season. Hopefully it all goes as scheduled, with no hurricanes pulling any upsets.

Aug. 30th at UConn Huskies

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It’s unusual to play a conference game right off the bat and will be a first for UCF, but it is certainly much more pleasant to play the Huskies on the road in August, rather than in the cold of November. If you are a young, developing team like UConn, you never want to play an experienced powerhouse like UCF early in the season, rivalry ot not.

The Huskies return experienced QB David Pindell, and lots of skill players, but he will need all of his mobility to escape the weakness of his young offense line. Look for UCF to press for a big lead early against a porous UConn defense to take away any chance for the Huskies to establish its running game. This one will not be pretty for UConn.

UCF 52 - UConn 14

Sept. 8th vs South Carolina State Bulldogs

Personally, I am against such practice games once the season starts, but if they insist on offering up these early season lambs for the slaughter, so be it. Believe it or not, this game actually has some historical significance. The last time the Knights played the Bulldogs, it was Scott Frost’s first game and UCF was coming in with a nations worst 13 game losing streak. This time around they will most likely be bringing a nation’s best 14 straight wins, making perfect bookends in a game that will hopefully end the series. Lots of reserves will see action and UCF will put up 50 for the second straight game.

UCF 56 - South Carolina State 7

Sept. 15th at North Carolina Tar Heels

NCAA Football: Western Carolina at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

To me this is the key game on UCF’s non-conference schedule, even if it’s not the most difficult. UNC is rebuilding, but will be UCF’s first real test of the season. The Tar Heels’ historically poor defense of late will be in big trouble in this game, as a major rebuild occurs on UNC’s mediocre offense, where they lose four starting linemen and don’t have a set starter at QB. Even worse news is that one of those QB’s in the running will be among the many to miss the game due to suspension.

Look for UCF to gash the defense with lots of long run plays by Killins Jr. and Anderson, setting up some deep Milton TD passes off play action. Randy Shannon’s defense should feast off of UNC’s inexperienced offensive line. Their performance in this game will give UCF fans an idea of what to expect for the season, good or bad. I expect the Knights will shake the early season rust off though, and leave Chapel Hill with the win.

UCF 38 - North Carolina 24

Sept. 21st vs Florida Atlantic Owls

NCAA Football: North Texas at Florida Atlantic Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

This will be one of the most hyped games of the year, as the Lane Train will enter Orlando feeling good about upsetting the Knights at the “Bounce House”. I don’t expect the road trip up I-95 will result for a fun night for FAU fans though. All three of the Owls losses came against great running teams, so the Knights should look to get that going early against FAU’s undersized front seven, as it’s very experienced secondary feasted on teams playing catch up.

The Owls will be breaking in a new QB at a point that’s still early in the season, so their ground attack will be much better than their passing game. If Randy Shannon has the UCF defense up to the task in shutting down star running back Devin Singletary, this will be UCF all the way.

UCF 52 - FAU 31

Sept. 29th vs Pittsburgh

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers are the better of the two ACC opponents UCF will face in 2018, and have a lot of returning talent and depth, especially on the defensive front seven. Offensively they have a talented backfield and an emerging QB, but have many unanswered questions on the line. Their other achilles heel is a broken secondary, that shows no signs of getting better against the blitzkrieg air assault they will face from UCF’s McKenzie Milton and friends. To make matters worse for Pitt, they will face UCF in Orlando. If UCF’s offensive line can do it’s usual job of keeping Milton upright, the Knights will be too much for the Panthers in front of the raucous home sellout crowd, and should pull away in the second half.

UCF 34 - Pittsburgh 24

Oct. 6th vs SMU Mustangs

Central Florida v SMU Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

This game was nearly a loss for the Knights last year on the road, but UCF gets the Mustangs at home this year, and SMU no longer with their two stud NFL bound WRs. QB Ben Hicks returns, but will have to adjust to a new head coach in Sonny Dykes and his offense.

SMU’s run defense on the road gave up an abysmal 332 yards per game in 2017. Look for the Knights to establish the ground attack early and establish a big lead in an effort to make the Mustangs one dimensional. Once that has occured, Shannon’s defense should create big turnovers against the error prone Hicks. I expect the Knights to roll over SMU this time at home.

UCF 56 - SMU 28

Oct. 13th at Memphis Tigers

This is the first rematch of UCF’s two epic games from 2017, with the Knights heading on the road this time against Memphis. But the Tigers have lost two major pieces in QB Riley Ferguson and WR Anthony Miller. Until they can show the have found adequate replacements for both, in Arizona State QB transfer Brady White and returning KR/WR/RB star Tony Pollard, it’s hard to imagine their offense won’t suffer.

Expect Memphis to lean heavily on their experienced and talented backfield with it’s strong offensive line, in an effort to keep UCF’s offense off the field. In return expect the Knights to bomb away at the Tigers older, but not much better secondary, like they did with success in last year’s AAC Championship Game.

UCF 42 - Memphis 28

Oct. 20th at East Carolina Pirates

This one will be ugly from the start, with UCF lighting up the hapless Pirates early and often on offense. ECU has zero running game, which means an early tee off time for Randy Shannon’s defense, who should be hitting their stride by now. Josh Heupel will have his pick of ground or air attack as the Pirates won’t offer much resistance on either front. This home game humiliation in front of a proud ECU fanbase might be the beginning of the end for their head coach Scottie Montgomery.

UCF 56 - East Carolina 14

Oct. 27th Bye Week

Photo / Chris Carter

No game this week. For all you recruits, that means if you are a UCF Knights football player you are probably relaxing on a beach like this on your much deserved week off.

Nov. 1st vs Temple Owls

This would be my trap game of the year, but UCF lucked out by getting by this gritty Owls team at home and after a bye week, giving them two weeks to prepare. Temple will be a good team that plays UCF tough, with a downhill running game and a penetrating defense. UCF will have to use a balanced offensive attack to catch Temple off guard, so that QB Milton can find their speedsters down the field. Defensively the Knights will have their hands full with the Owls running game, but I see the Knights will lead from start and win.

UCF 45 - Temple 28

Nov. 10th vs Navy Midshipmen

This game will be a favorite for UCF fans as Navy finally brings their storied tradition and pageantry to Spectrum Stadium. Again, UCF’s schedule is kind as they get another tough opponent at home. Navy’s gameplan will be to limit possessions by running down the clock with their triple option attack. The Knights must be efficient and mistake free to take down the Midshipmen.

Look for new defensive leader, ILB Pat Jasinski, to have another game like he did last year against Navy, when he played fantastic assignment football. Offensively the Knights will look to get their superior talent and speed in one-on-one mismatches in the open field. They will take care of business, but win win by just 10.

UCF 31 - Navy 21

Nov. 17th vs Cincinnati Bearcats

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This game will not be much easier for the Bearcats than in 2017, when Mother Nature mercifully intervened. The Knights will be in late season form, and while Cincy will be improved, it won’t be nearly enough. Fourth year QB Hayden Moore returns as the starter, but that’s not exactly great news for the Bearcats. We might see a offense that struggles as Cincy had the worst offense in the AAC in 2017. Not exactly what you need against the Knights. If the Bearcats are lucky, UCF may be caught looking ahead to Black Friday.

UCF 52 - Cincinnati 17

Nov. 23th at South Florida Bulls

NCAA Football: South Florida at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The War On I-4! While this game will be the most hyped and highly anticipated game of the year for both fanbases, it will be a huge disappointment for the rival USF fans. The USF Bulls were primarily a running offense in 2017 that lost 93 percent of their ground game due to graduation, in particular the greatest player in their history, QB Quinton Flowers. USF brought in last minute QB transfer, journeyman Blake Barnett, from recently failed stints in Alabama and Arizona St, to add to an already unclear situation behind center.

Defensively they lost their best players as well, so this will be the start of a complete rebuild. The “Replacements” will not have a movie ending unfortunately, as the writing will already be on the wall when the Bulls come into this game with multiple losses.

The UCF “Zombie” Nation will invade RayJay Stadium and make this a de-facto home game, as the Knights will toy with their outmanned, hated rival and roll them by 21. Expect Bulls head coach Charlie Strong to start looking for the earliest P5 ship out after this game.

UCF 42 - USF 21

Final Thoughts

Yes, I know I have UCF picked to win every game, and while I do believe that will happen, going undefeated is a lot harder than it looks. Winning every game on your schedule takes a tremendous amount of luck, physical endurance, as well as incredible focus to maintain a level of excellence through a grueling season.

While the temptation is there to say that there are potential hazards in the FAU, Pitt, Memphis, Temple, and Navy games, I see the UCF Knights as a very motivated and focused team, with an even bigger chip on their shoulder than last year. Players and new coaching staff alike still have plenty to prove, and while it may not always be pretty, I believe they will get through the regular season 12-0 to go undefeated again in 2018. Go Knights and Charge On!


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