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Knights' Roundtable: Prepping for Pitt

Banneret Staff Gather to Answer Key Questions About This Week

Photo: Derek Warden
Photo: Derek Warden

Welcome to a new tradition starting at the Black & Gold Banneret: The Knights' Roundtable.

Each week, a few staff contributors will answer five questions regarding the upcoming events in UCF sports. It's a way to get the staff to come together as well as the rest of Knights Nation, to see if they agree or disagree with the crew at BGB.

This week, Jeff Sharon, Brian Murphy and Jeremy Brener take their seats at the roundtable to answer this week's questions about the upcoming game against the Pitt Panthers.

1) With UCF's first Power 5 opponent coming up, how much respect will UCF get if they defeat Pittsburgh?

Jeff Sharon: Unfortunately not enough. Even though they're 2-2, Pitt is weird in that they're not overly respected as a P5 program, even though they've won a national title in the past and are in the ACC. they haven't won 10 games since 2009 and haven't made a New Year's Six Bowl since the 2004 Fiesta Bowl when they got crushed by Urban Meyer, Alex Smith and Utah. So, unfortunately, I think it'll be another case of damned if you do, damned if you don't for UCF.

Brian Murphy: Opinions regarding the impact of this win will likely be split along tribal lines. If you root for UCF or you think people are underrating them, you will push the narrative that this is a notable victory over a power-conference team. If you don't like UCF or think they are overrated, you will most likely write this off as a win over an also-ran program, no more impressive than beating the best challengers in the AAC. To be fair, this is the same Pittsburgh team that lost to Penn State by 45 and a moribund and reduced UNC squad last week. I honestly don't think it will move the needle simply because, Power 5 or not, UCF is significantly better than Pitt. Let's not act as if the Knights are playing Clemson this weekend.

Jeremy Brener: Considering this team just lost to UNC, not much. This is not the same team that went in and beat a Top 10 Miami squad last year. Pitt is a Power 5 team, so they will get some eyeballs, but they are an average ACC team at best. This is not one of the hard games on the schedule this season for the Knights, so hopefully, they take care of business on Saturday.

2) Which skill player needs to step up and have a big game against Pitt?

Jeff Sharon: I want to see Adrian Killins have a breakout game. He's UCF's leading rusher but he's only averaging 5.8 yards per carry (last year he averaged 6.4). He also hasn't broken a really big soul-crushing footrace TD run yet. Pitt gave up 320 yards on the ground to Georgia Tech, so I'm hoping for a similar big game Saturday.

Brian Murphy: I'll go with Tre Nixon. Josh Heupel has talked about how Pitt brings their safeties into the box to stop the run, so it is imperative for those outside receivers to win one-on-one matchups. Nixon is one of those guys, and after a couple of nondescript box scores, here's guessing that Nixon he will get back to eating here.

Jeremy Brener: I'll go with one that usually flies under the radar: Michael Colubiale. The tight end had a good game against FAU, one of the best games in his six(!) years at UCF. The offense kind of hit a plateau early in the second quarter, but once Colubiale and McKenzie Milton began to connect, the offense found their rhythm again.

3) Which defensive player needs to step up and have a big game against Pitt?

Jeff Sharon: I think it's Joey Connors. He has to stuff Pitt's rushing attack this week. he had a few missed tackles against FAU on Friday night. I look for him to be very active Saturday.

Brian Murphy: Someone who can tackle. Apologies for the copout answer, but running back Qadree Ollison is basically Pittsburgh's offense right now. Case in point: Pitt ranks 101st in total offense, but Ollison has rushed for 355 yards, placing him 31st in the FBS. He has 14 more yards than FAU's Devin Singletary on 21 fewer carries. And while the slippery Singletary is just 5-foot-9 and maybe 200 pounds, Ollison is built like a true workhorse at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds. So, UCF better bring the cavalry in order to get him down.

Jeremy Brener: Trysten Hill is my answer. Josh Heupel stressed the size of this Pitt O-Line and how it is probably the biggest offensive line they've faced this season. If Hill can challenge them, it will slow down their high-powered rushing attack and stunt the Pitt offense.

4) UCF moved up 3 spots in the AP, 4 in the Coaches' Polls. Given their head start, do they have an outside chance at the CFP now?

Jeff Sharon: I'm going to buck the conventional wisdom and say yes, they do. First, we've made plenty of noise about it leading into this year. Second, I can definitely see a couple of teams within UCF's vicinity in the AP and Coaches' Polls dropping a game this week (Looking at you, Penn State, Washington and West Virginia). If UCF remains undefeated by the time the first CFP rankings come out on October 30, they will have withstood their toughest road challenge at Memphis and should be well into the top 10 in the AP and Coaches' Polls by then based on attrition. And bear in mind that UCF plays Temple on a Thursday night on ESPN the day after those rankings come out. Don't think for one second the Committee doesn't know that. Then it's Navy and so-far-undefeated Cincy and USF on the docket to close it out. Just win, baby.

Brian Murphy: Let's remember that the AP poll is not the CFP poll. In the end, UCF's placement in the AP poll is entirely meaningless; it's just a gauge for us until the first CFP rankings are released next month. Can the Knights make it into the playoff? I'll actually give them an infinitesimal chance IF they go undefeated. But for a playoff appearance to truly become reality, UCF would also need a lot of help (aka losses) from the teams ranked ahead of them. That's just as important. It may be as simple as if there are at least four no-loss or even one-loss teams from the SEC/ACC/Big 12/Big Ten/Pac-12, the Knights probably can't do enough to get into the dance.

Jeremy Brener: Two Top 10 teams are going to lose this weekend. #12 West Virginia and #11 Washington are both on upset alert this weekend as they face ranked opponents. It's certainly possible that UCF cracks the Top 10 in the polls this week. And if any team is in the Top 10 in the AP Poll at any point during the season, there is a strong case to be in the CFP.

5) What's your score and attendance prediction for Saturday?

Jeff Sharon: UCF 38, Pitt 20. 42,000.

Brian Murphy: For the score, I have little doubt that UCF will at least match the 38 points that North Carolina put up against the Panthers last week. Let's say 47-24. UCF covers at minus-13.5. For the attendance, I'll gladly use a random number generator where the first number is 4 and the second number has a range between 1-5. OK, here we go! 4 ... 1 ... 9 ... 3 ... 5. Attendance: 41,935. It is written.

Jeremy Brener: I'll say 53-20. 42,001 for the attendance just so I can be one more than Jeff.