We’re continuing the American Frontier series with the first opponent that is new to the Huskies, and of course, the conference. If the name UCF is ringing a bell, that’s because their basketball team beat us in a come from behind victory led by Michael Jordan’s son in the 2011 Battle 4 Atlantis...
(Sorry I just blacked out, I’m having horrible flashbacks of a defending national champion with two lottery picks the next summer losing a 17 point lead with 15 minutes left to UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL EFFING FLORIDA… why!? Whyyyyyy!?!?!?)
As a football program, UCF is teeming with potential. The school has the second largest enrollment in the country, so there’s a large contingency to support the squad by buying merchandise, tickets, watching on TV, etc. More importantly, they are located in the heart of the recruiting hotbed known as the state of Florida, situated in Orlando (solid TV market). The recruiting advantage may be a little overstated- after all perennial powers Florida, Florida State and Miami all offer the same in-state convenience and it’s not like the Alabama’s and Georgia’s of the world have any trouble recruiting there either. At the same time, I’d have to guess that they benefit from increased access and better inside information to mine some solid talent once the power schools pick their way through the top recruits.
The Huskies travel to Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando on October 26th for their third American Conference game of the season. So how do we stack up against this conference newcomer?
How they’ve fared: Like UConn, these guys haven’t been in the Football Bowl Subdivision (nee Division 1-A) for very long, making the transition in 1996. They’ve won the C-USA East four times since George O’Leary (yes, the same George O’Leary who was hired then quickly fired by Notre Dame for lying on his resume) became coach in 2004, winning the conference title game twice and going 2-3 in five bowl appearances. The list of NFL’ers who wore the old gold and black includes: Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Marshall, Asante Samuel and Daunte Culpepper.
2012 was a pretty solid year for the Knights. They won their division but lost a close one to Tulsa in the C-USA championship, falling in OT 33-27. They would go on to play and beat Ball State in the Beef ’O’ Brady’s Bowl to finish the season 10-4. There aren’t really any marquee wins among that ten, but props for playing Ohio State and Missouri out of conference.
(Side-note: In addition to hosting Missouri last year, they’ll be playing South Carolina at home this year, that’s 2 straight seasons hosting SEC opponents! Maybe some of the savvier big-name schools see a great benefit to playing at UCF. They get the cupcake schedule police off their backs while providing exposure and opportunities to woo the Florida prospects they’re looking to sign. Instead of paying $250k for Appalachian State to come to town and take a beating, wouldn’t a home and home with UCF make more sense? … but I digress)
How they look: The American Media poll has UCF slated to finish fourth in the conference and this recent preview from CBS Sports has them third. That same preview has UConn fifth, so take it with a grain of salt, but it’s safe to say that expectations are for this UCF squad to be pretty competitive in their new conference.
O’Leary’s team is returning starting QB Blake Bortels and a good chunk of an offensive unit that finished among the top in the Conference USA in many offensive measures. Bortels, a Maxwell watch-list nominee, will be joined by his three top receivers from last year in JJ Worton, Jeff Godfrey and Rannell Hall.
Latavius Murray, their stud RB from last year is now an Oakland Raider, but Miami transfer and Junior Storm Johnson (how is that not a male porn stars name?) returns after a solid sophomore campaign. Johnson, a Doak Walker nominee, was a top-30 overall recruit coming out of high school. Make no mistake, this is a potent offense.
The Knights lost seven of their top 10 tacklers from last year’s defense which finished first in the C-USA in scoring defense, but a number of playmakers (leaders in sacks, TFL’s, etc.) remain and they should have solid depth to fill those gaps. This is not the kind of team that wins games 54-48.
How they match up: We will be matched up against the Knights strength against strength given their explosive offense. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Typically, historically, in football the defense wins but something might get in our way of fulfilling that prophecy. It’s no secret our offense has had trouble moving the ball and putting points on the board, so even if our defense can stop them it will be for naught if we can’t score any points. That, or we’ll need a spectacular day from special teams, which has happened so… who knows.
What’s going to happen: This is actually a very telling matchup for the Huskies. We’re not expected to beat Cincinnati and know where we stand with USF, but for what it’s worth, UCF has been a pretty solid player in Conference USA and is on the rise. If we aren’t competitive here, I wouldn’t feel great about our chances to ever be a big player in this conference.
I really do think our defense is good enough hold back their offense but it’ll still come down to whether or not the UConn offense can score enough. That’s a huge question mark since we don’t know what to expect from this Weist offense, but hopefully by the 7th game of the season we’ve found some things that work. I think it’ll be a close one but that we pull it out with some offensive ingenuity and a boost from special teams.
Regular Season prediction: 7-5 (5-3)