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Knights Roundtable: Houston

Knights aim for bowl eligibility on Senior Knight

Photo: Derek Warden

The UCF Knights have one last shot at bowl eligibility at home against the Houston Cougars on Saturday.

We tackle the five biggest questions heading into Saturday in a special Thanksgiving edition of the RoundTable:


1. What did we learn from Texas Tech last week?

Kyle: Hard as it may be to believe, there is more positive to learn from the single-point Texas Tech loss at Lubbock than negative. The only “bad” lesson is that a few key plays can determine the outcome of a game. While there are other instances throughout 2023 that did this, this one relates more specifically to clock management.

For the positives, we’ve learned that UCF can compete, hang with, and threaten incumbent Big 12 programs on the field. While the Knights are 5-6, they could just as easily be 8-3 playing for a shot at a 9th regular-season win with a 10-win season on the table after a theoretical-potential bowl victory. The current worst-case is for the program to miss out on a chance at a 9th-straight bowl season, but that would represent quite a disappointment on Senior Night.

Bryson: The defense has come a long way from where it was at the beginning of the season. Addison Williams’ unit is the reason the Knights were in the game in Lubbock as long as they were, and if a couple of plays had gone differently, UCF would already be bowl-eligible. Thems the breaks sometimes.

I think between this game, the Kansas State game, and the Oklahoma game, Knights fans have learned that this program can stand up and compete with legacy Big 12 programs on the road. It’s just a matter of executing when it matters most and things going your way.

Nick: The defense has shaped up nicely over the past few weeks. from a total liability to a unit that can keep the team in games. And we once again saw this team can hang around with legacy Big 12 teams.


2. What’s the big worry with Houston?

Kyle: That UCF beats themselves as they did last week, at the Oklahoma Sooners, and against the Baylor Bears.

Bryson: That the Knights underestimate the Cougars and either come out soft or let them hang around. This is the kind of time where having the Baylor game to reference is a good thing.

Nick: They make costly mistakes like they did against Texas Tech and Oklahoma. But really it’s what Bryson said. They come in cocky and overconfident and underestimate the Cougars, a team with nothing to lose.


3. Should UCF go .500 and reach a bowl, does that make the season successful?

Kyle: Of course. Should it be celebrated — no. Should there be contentment, I believe so. The way that head coach Gus Malzahn turned over and upgraded the roster while seeing vast improvements in his coordinators' game-planning throughout the season shouldn’t be ignored. The fact that Malzahn has the Knights looking like a dangerous team against Power 5 opponents is easily the biggest success.

Hopefully, it will be enough to overcome not having an incumbent starter at quarterback next year once John Rhys Plumlee concludes his college career in 2023.

Bryson: For UCF’s first season as a Power Five school during which they lost their starting QB for multiple games, absolutely.

The legacy Big 12 teams are no joke, even when they have down years, so for UCF to still earn bowl eligibility despite the transition (something that Houston and Cincy were not able to do) is a satisfying end to the season. I like to compare it to shooting a par in golf. It does not hurt you, which is good, but you could have shot better.

This season was about assessing how UCF compared to its new P5 brethren and I think we saw some promising signs in that department. Now we’ll have something to compare to going into Year 2.

Nick: Look, if you want to be nitpicky or you like to complain you can say no because the Knights lost so many games and you can argue that they should have had a bowl game spot locked down weeks ago because their record should be much better than it is. But let’s be real: For your first year in a Power Five conference, a year where you played several teams who will most likely end a year ranked (one of whom you beat) yes this is a good start. This is a year where you want to show you can be competitive. I believe they’ve already shown it, but getting to a bowl game will really show it. So if they lock up a bowl spot, it should be viewed as an overall good first season. But I also agree with Kyle. You don’t want things to be like this every year. You want to see improvement so let’s not celebrate and make this the standard. Next year I think we should expect a little more from this team.


4. Who’s the real SpaceU and why is it UCF?

Kyle: As a former student of the Engineering program, I can vouch for the fact that their relationship with Kennedy Space Center was only the beginning. However, I would argue dressing up like North Carolina hosting Oklahoma State in this space game didn’t help that case.

Bryson: Let’s set aside the fact that everything Houston-based astronauts need to get to space in the first place is assembled in Central Florida and that UCF owes its entire existence to the Space program while Houston was founded in 1927 aside for a second.

When JFK made his famous speech about reaching the Moon by the end of the decade, he was not on the campus of the University of Houston, but on the campus of Rice University. The President himself even added a line that references the Rice vs. Texas Longhorns football game (a series which Texas currently leads 75-21-1) as an example of challenges that people take on “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

I guess what I am really asking is, if we’re going by pure space connection standards, then where is Rice and UCF’s Space Game?

In short, if the Cougars aren’t even SpaceU in their own city, what chance do they have at being SpaceU against UCF?

Nick: If Houston’s coach saying “I thought we were the real space city” or whatever was him trying to talk trash, I got to be honest, that was a lame attempt. And really random too. There’s a part of me that wonders, and I’m not trying to sound like a jerk here, but one of the higher-ups asked the coach to say that to try and add some juice to get people interested in Houston, a team that has been struggling this year, final game.

I may be biased but UCF is Space U. And I'm not just saying that because we’re on the space coast and have seen rockets launch during games or because of the school’s engineering program or the school’s relationship with the Kennedy Space Center, I’m saying it because UCF has simply claimed that title first by embracing space-themed branding. Think of how big the space game has become here. Heck, go even farther back in history. Our old name was the freaking Citronauts. Then look at Houston. Not the city that has a huge history in space activity, but the university. Yes, they work with the space program. But after doing some research, I can’t find any example (and if I’m wrong someone correct me) of their sports teams having any extreme hardcore space branding. Maybe they’ve had a little uniform patch that relates to that but they’ve done nothing as big as the space game. UCF has leaned into the whole SpaceU thing. If Houston wanted to call themselves Space U, then they should have done the same.


5. Best Thanksgiving side dish. Go.

Kyle: The TV showing football in the background.

Bryson: Turkey is my favorite part of every Thanksgiving Dinner, but the entire dining experience is elevated with some sweet potato soufflé.

Nick: This might technically not count as a side dish and instead be described as a dessert but Thanksgiving in the Porcelli household has a unique food option. My birthday falls around Thanksgiving. There have even been a few years where my birthday was on Thanksgiving. So because of that, I’m going to say birthday cake.


Predictions!

Kyle: Oddly enough, I see the defense making the bigger impact in this game. Will Houston get 100 yards rushing? Sure, but they’ll turn the ball over at least twice. UCF wins and goes bowling thanks to a 31-17 triumph.

Bryson: The last time UCF beat Houston in the Bounce House was back in 2013. Ten years later, I think we’re going to see it happen again. 34-17, UCF.

Nick: We know UCF can win this. And I’m hoping after last week this team is pissed off and motivated. With so much on the line and with this having the potential to be the final game for so many key players, I’m hoping the team comes out hard and comes away with the win. I’m expecting things to be close at first, with UCF eventually breaking away thanks to both sides of the ball making some big plays. 31-14 Knights.