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Breaking Down UCF Men’s Soccer’s First Sun Belt Schedule

Knights embark on a new path in the #FunBelt

UCF Knights Men’s Soccer falls to USF 4-3 in Overtime. Wednesday, 10/27/2021
Anderson Rosa
Photo: Noah Goldberg

The UCF Knights Men’s Soccer team revealed its 2023 schedule on Monday — its first as a member of the Sun Belt Conference:

UCF Men’s Soccer 2023 Schedule

Date Day H/A Opponent Conf. Preseason Rank Coaches Poll 2022 RPI 2022 Record Last Season
Date Day H/A Opponent Conf. Preseason Rank Coaches Poll 2022 RPI 2022 Record Last Season
Aug 24 Thu A Clemson ACC - 1st 9 11 13-7-1 4th ACC Atlantic, L ACC Final, L NCAA 2nd Round
Aug 27 Sun H Stetson ASUN - 4th - 109 6-3-7 3rd ASUN, L ASUN 1st Round
Sep 1 Fri H NC State ACC - 6th in Atlantic - 75 6-7-4 6th ACC Atlantic, L ACC 1st Round
Sep 5 Tue H FIU American - 1st 21 19 13-5-2 AAC Season & Tournament Champions, L NCAA 3rd Round
Sep 9 Sat H Brown Ivy League - TBA - 92 8-6-3 8th Ivy League
Sep 15 Fri H West Virginia Sun Belt - 3rd RV 53 7-7-4 4th SBC, Lost SBC Semifinal to Kentucky
Sep 23 Sat A Marshall Sun Belt - 2nd 11 29 11-4-4 2nd SBC, L SBC 1st Round, L NCAA 3rd Round
Sep 29 Fri A Kentucky Sun Belt - 1st 3 6 15-1-5 1st SBC, Won SBC Tournament, NCAA #1 Seed, L NCAA 3rd Round
Oct 7 Sat H Georgia Southern Sun Belt - 10th - 186 1-14-1 9th SBC, DNQ SBC Tournament
Oct 14 Sat A Old Dominion Sun Belt - 9th - 89 6-8-2 6th SBC, L SBC 1st Round
Oct 18 Wed H Coastal Carolina Sun Belt - T-6th - 59 5-5-6 5th SBC, L SBC 1st Round
Oct 22 Sun A South Carolina Sun Belt - 5th RV 76 5-8-4 8th SBC, L SBC 1st Round
Oct 27 Fri A Georgia State Sun Belt - T-6th - 48 12-4-3 3rd SBC, L SBC Semifinal to JMU
Oct 31 Tue H James Madison Sun Belt - 8th - 54 8-8-4 7th SBC, L SBC Final to Kentucky
View UCF’s release

For our money, this is arguably the most interesting schedule reveal of 2023. The Big 12 does not sponsor Men’s Soccer, so UCF found a home in the Sun Belt, along with the only other Big 12 school with a men’s soccer program, West Virginia.

(Side note: This is UCF’s second run in the Sun Belt. UCF was a full member of the SBC for one season back in 1991-92, before the Sun Belt even had football. The Knights are an affiliate for Men’s Soccer only.)

UCF also joins two other schools they used to compete against in Conference USA (NOT the SEC), Kentucky and South Carolina.

Non-conference play includes:

  • Only one road game (at Clemson)
  • Two ACC opponents (Clemson and NC State)
  • One old AAC foe (FIU)

Fasten Your Fun Belt

Realignment in Men’s Soccer has been more fast and furious than with everything else, given how everything else triggered realignment in Men’s Soccer. Major conferences like the SEC and Big 12 don’t sponsor the sport.

Meanwhile, the Sun Belt re-established its Men’s Soccer league in 2022, and thanks to C-USA eliminating Men’s Soccer, five schools joined the Sun Belt from C-USA (Kentucky, South Carolina, Old Dominion, Coastal Carolina, and Marshall), along with West Virginia, Georgia State and Georgia Southern from the MAC and James Madison from the CAA.

If you include UCF, this catch-all league had the second-most teams in the RPI Top 100 last season:

  • 11 — ACC
  • 9 — Sun Belt, Big East
  • 7 — Big Ten
  • 6 — Pac-12, Ivy League, AAC

How Tough Is It?

The AAC was certainly up and down in UCF’s tenure. There was a lot ot turmoil: UConn leaving, Cincinnati folding, and FIU, FAU, UAB and Charlotte joining just last season.

Just like what we did with Volleyball earlier, I worked out the running average conference opponents’ RPI for UCF from 2017-2022, and compared that to this season’s schedule (based on the final 2022 RPI):

  • The thick blue line is this year’s Sun Belt schedule.
  • The purple line is the trend line formed by the running opponents’ average RPI for UCF’s AAC opponents from 2017 (Scott Calabrese’s first season) through 2022.

The first thing you notice is The American wasn’t that bad from an RPI perspective, especially from 2019 on. 2019 was UCF’s best conference slate by average RPI prior to last season, when the AAC added four teams.

At worst, the Sun Belt is still at worst at the top end of The American’s best seasons in recent history, with the potential to be even better if everyone stands pat and Georgia Southern (RPI #186) can at least get its act together.

Bottom line: the Sun Belt should definitely be considered the SEC or Big 12 of men’s college soccer, and this season’s UCF Men’s Soccer schedule is the most intriguing we have seen in a long time.