The big game not only of Friday night but really in all of the Group of Five has UCF visiting Cincinnati. This was the preseason top two squads in the media (and my picks) for the American Athletic Conference’s East Division. The two teams met in Orlando last year with UCF blowing out the Bearcats 38-13.
Both the Knights and Bearcats are each coming off blowout wins last week, and each team has lost once in non-conference play to a Power Five opponent. As far as the Group of 5 race is concerned for a spot in the New Year’s Six, this could potentially be an early elimination game especially since both already have that loss on their resume.
The Knights have one of the most explosive offenses in the country. UCV averages a gawdy 568.6 yards of total offense per game, which ranks second in all of the FBS. They’re also scoring 49.0 points a game, sixth-best in the top level of college footall.
UCF has really lived on a big play offense so far this season and will look to do a similar thing in this game. The Knights receivers average 17 yards per catch, the running backs 5.3 yards per carry and QB Dillon Gabriel 11.5 yards per passing attempt.
The Knights have defeated Stanford, FCS Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic, and UConn. The one loss was to the ACC’s Pittsburgh on the road. In that loss, Gabriel threw two interceptions and was sacked six times. Those were Gabriel’s first two picks in his career, and he’s been sacked just two other times total this season so this will have to be the game plan for Cincinnati to stop the Knights–pressure the quarterback and force the freshman into making a mistake.
The Knights have won 19 straight conference games and haven’t lost to an AAC opponent since the end of the 2016 season.
Key Player: QB Dillion Gabriel leads the AAC with 14 touchdown passes and has been intercepted just twice (as menioned both were in the loss to Pitt). His 1,336 passing yards are second in the conference behind only Shane Buechele of SMU. He will need to be more like has played in the four wins and not like the one loss for the Knights to avoid the upset bid.
While UCF is an explosive type offense, the Bearcats are more traditional with a short pass and run type of attack. QB Desmond Ridder leads the passing attack with Michael Warren II (262 yards, 4touchdowns) and Tavion Thomas (193 yards, 1 TD) leading the rushing attack.
The Bearcats have played four games with all being out-of-conference contests. Cincinnati has defeated UCLA, Miami (OH), and last week at Marshall. The lone loss was a blowout to in-state Top 5 AP ranked Ohio State.
Last week’s win at Marshall was what Coach Luke Fickell stated as his team’s most complete game last week in what turned out to be a 52-14 blowout.
The Bearcat defense will be a key to this game with jack linebacker Michael Pitts leading the charge. Pitts has four sacks this season and against an offense that is young on UCF, he could come up big to slow the Knight offense.
Cincinnati trails the all-time series 1-3 with the last win for the Bearcats coming in 2015– 52-7 victory.
Key Player: QB Desmond Ridder has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 815 yards and eight touchdowns so far this year. In what very well could be a high scoring game, Ridder will be key to keeping pace with the Knights. He will also need to make the right reads and mix in the running game to keep the time of possession in the Bearcats favor.
Fearless Forecast: Cincinnati will be slowing the game down early and will have enough offensive power to keep this game close throughout the game. But UCF has too much talent and will show it the second half. Cincinnati may start with an early lead but UCF will come away in the end with the victory. UCF 38 Cincinnati 31
Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football in the western half of the United States– the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.
Originally from LaMoure, North Dakota, Kent is a 1996 graduate of North Dakota State University. His prior writing experience is over 15 years having previously worked with D2football.com, I-AA.org, and College Sporting News before coming to College Sports Journal in 2016. His main focus is college football in the western half of the United States-- the Big Sky Conference and Missouri Valley Football Conference within the Division I FCS. And in 2017, he began also to look at the FBS Group of Five conferences of the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, and Sun Belt.