No. 25 Knights, Amid the Hype, Move on to Cincinnati

UCF VS. CINCINNATI PREVIEW

Taj-McGowan-UCF-Memphis-Football
The Knights should run the ball often with Taj McGowan and others versus Cincinnati. (Photo: Derek Warden)

Head coach Scott Frost doesn’t want to hear about it.

He doesn’t want to read about it. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want his players to read or talk about it.

His team is nationally ranked. Uh, next question, please.

“We’re not going to talk about any of that stuff,” Frost said Monday about the team’s No. 25 national ranking. “In fact, I asked the players what their record was this morning and they knew the answer: It’s 0-0. I asked them where we’re ranked and they said, ‘We’re not.'”

Players such record-breaking running back Adrian Killins and defensive lineman Seyvon Lowry did a good job of following their coach’s lead Monday, saying that the ranking is just a number, it doesn’t mean anything and that they are just looking to win each game. But it obviously means a lot to us, the fans. It means a lot to the players’ friends and family. It means a lot to UCF’s profile as it puts more eyes on the program.

And you know who else is very much aware of the Knights’ poll placement? The Cincinnati Bearcats, who now get a chance to knock off a ranked team under the lights in front of their home crowd. That must sound pretty enticing for a 2-3 team.

Kickoff

The Knights will begin their first AAC road test of the season at 8 p.m. Saturday inside University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium.

TV

  • ESPNU
  • Play-by-play: Roy Philpott, who has a pretty cool Twitter header.
  • Analyst: Tom Ramsey, a former quarterback for the UCLA Bruins, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

Series

Tied 1-1.

Last meeting, 2016: After Cincinnati opened this series with a 52-7 shellacking of the Knights during their winless 2015, UCF struck back with a 24-3 victory at home last season which made them bowl-eligible. The contest turned when UCF turned a blocked kick into a scoop-and-score in the third quarter.

Three Things You Should Know

AAC recognition: Two Knights garnered American Athletic Conference Player of the Week honors Monday: Killins and kicker Matthew Wright. Killins was awarded after gaining 179 yards from scrimmage versus Memphis. But really, he put that honor on lock with his 96-yard TD burst which was the longest run in UCF and AAC history and the second-longest run in the FBS this year.

After the game, Killins said: “I believe I’m the fastest guy in college football.” That play provided some solid supporting evidence.

Wright was tabbed as the Special Teams Player of the Week after hitting both of his field goals and four extra points versus the Tigers. He is UCF’s all-time leader in field goal percentage at 77.3.

Good company: UCF ranks among the nation’s top 10 in scoring offense (46.3 points per game) and scoring defense (13.3 points allowed per game). There are only two other teams who can claim as much: No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Washington. Those two are also the only teams with a greater average scoring margin than the Knights’ 33.0.

4-0?: The Berlin Wall. Milli Vanilli. ALF. Those things were resonating around the world in 1988, which was the last time the Knights began a football season 4-0. They were an independent Division II program then and finished that year at 6-5. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the 2017 version, which can move to 4-0 with a win Saturday, will not finish 6-5.

Cincinnati Coming In

UCF can relate to much of what the Bearcats are experiencing right now. Head coach Luke Fickell is in his first year at the helm and trying to mold the program to fit his long-term vision. As you would expect, Cincinnati has dealt with ups and downs as it tries to implement a new system with a bunch of underclassmen; nearly 70 percent of Cincy’s roster is made up of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores. The Bearcats lost their first two conference games, including a 38-21 home defeat at the hands of the Marshall Thundering Herd last week.

Frost said of the Bearcats: “Kind of glad we’re catching them when we’re catching them because I’ve been down that road before as a first-year coach and it just takes a while to get everything implemented, but I have no doubt they’ll get there.”

When UCF Has the Ball

UCF Offense: Run. The. Ball. It’s simple, but it’s been effective for the Knights this season, and it should be a major advantage for them here. On one hand, the Black and Gold rank 16th in the nation with 249.3 rushing yards per game and have seven players who have logged at least 50 yards on the ground.

On the other hand, Cincinnati’s run defense ranks 120th out of 129 teams in the FBS. The Bearcats have permitted 237.8 rushing yards per game. Granted, that number is skewed by the 569 yards (!) Navy rumbled for a couple of weeks ago, but other Cincy opponents, such as Marshall and Austin Peay, have topped 130 on the ground as well.

Cincinnati Defense: Three and out. How do you consistently stop UCF’s offense? No team has been able to come up with a successful plan yet, but regardless, you’ve got to find a way to get them off the field. On Cincinnati’s side is the fact they have been pretty good at doing just that. The Bearcats’ defense has gotten the opposition off the field 66.2 percent of the time on third down. That’s the fourth-best mark in the AAC. The Knights are at the top of that heap with a third-down stoppage rate of 78.4.

When Cincinnati Has the Ball

Cincinnati Offense: Quick start. This has not been the Bearcats’ forte this season — they have been outscored 42-17 in the opening frame — but it’s absolutely imperative if they want a chance to pull off the upset. We have yet to see how the Knights perform in a close game after halftime. If Cincinnati gets on the board early and hangs around, that will keep their fans involved and the energy they provide pulsating throughout Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats’ offense has not been very impressive as it ranks in the bottom half of most categories in the AAC. But they can cure some ails with a fast, aggressive beginning that allows them to build upon some momentum and belief that they can win.

UCF Defense: Thou shalt steal. Turnover margin, according to Frost, is the “biggest stat in football.” And although he didn’t know it until I told him on Monday, his team currently leads the FBS in turnover margin. UCF has averaged 2.33 more takeaways than giveaways this year. Meanwhile, the Bearcats have committed 11 turnovers in their past four games, including three against Marshall that led directly to 14 points. The Knights’ offense is dangerous enough as is. If their defense gives them a few extra possessions, it’s going to be a long, long night for the home team.

PODCAST: Previewing Cincinnati and More with Brian Murphy

Final Details

Line: The Knights opened as a 14-point favorite, but the line has quickly jumped up to UCF -17. The over-under is 55 as of Wednesday night.

Weather: The early forecast shows some rain in the Cincinnati area on Saturday night. The temperature should be in the mid-70s at kickoff with a 10-15 mph wind coming out of the southwest.

Pick: UCF, 45-16. Nothing should be taken for granted when playing a conference game on the road, but the Knights know they should beat a Cincinnati team that is in rebuilding mode. As long as they handle the Bearcats’ initial punch and take the crowd out of it early, the Knights should romp.

About Brian Murphy 40 Articles

Brian Murphy graduated from UCF in 2009 following four years as a sports writer for the dearly departed Central Florida Future. He has been writing about sports — college, pro or fantasy — since 2001. Favorite UCF athlete to interview? Former running back Kevin Smith. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @Spokes_Murphy

Contact: Twitter