Week 9 - October 31, 2015 - Time: TBA - Nippert Stadium
UCF Knights at Cincinnati Bearcats
Who Are They?
After going 9-4 a year ago, with a 7-1 record in conference, the Knights are reloading, returning only 10 starters. With head coach George O'Leary leading things, the Knights are still a very dangerous program with key pieces in place to give teams, including Cincinnati, trouble this season.
Last year, the Knights were breaking in, then sophomore quarterback, Justin Holman, who was stepping in for NFL-bound Blake Bortles. Holman was inconsistent, especially in the early going, but eventually began to settle in as a first-year starter, leading the Knights to 9 wins in their final 11 games, only falling to UConn (what?) and NC State, 34-27, in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.
Holman finished the year with 2,952 yards passing, 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He returns with a full season under his belt and loads of experience around him offensively. William Stanback returns in the backfield after finishing 2014 with 697 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns, despite missing some time due to injury. The offensive line is almost entirely in tact, only needing to replace one starter from 2014. The real inexperience comes in at receiver where, well... everyone is gone. Breshad Perriman is a Baltimore Raven and the top returning pass catcher is Jordan Akins who caught 12 passes a year ago.
Defensively, UCF is replacing seven starters from a unit that finished fifth nationally in total defense, only allowing 298.5 yards per game. They were also ninth in scoring defense, giving up 19.2 points per game. That said, two of three linebackers are going to be new faces and the entire secondary is new after losing three seniors to graduation and junior Jacoby Glenn to the pros early. That isn't to say there isn't some solid talent on the roster, it's just a little green. The defensive line is a strength, led by senior Thomas Niles. Niles put up 7.5 sacks and 13.0 tackles for a loss a year ago. Seniors Demetris Anderson and Lance McDowdell return to man the middle.
Why We Should Worry...
George O'Leary is a pretty darn good coach and he has pretty darn good players. O'Leary has made UCF a scary program to face over his tenure there and coming off a season where the Knight shared their second consecutive American title, there is no reason to think they won't be a tough out again.
They have to replace a number of starters from last season, but with a quarterback in place and an offensive line that is mostly intact from 2014, the pieces are there to make noise. At the very least, the pieces are in place to cover UCF's weaknesses in the early part of the season until the new faces adjust.
And Why We Shouldn't...
What position group does UCF have to replace entirely? Secondary. What is one position I wouldn't want to play if Cincinnati was on my schedule this season? Defensive back.
UCF and Cincinnati don't play until Week 9, so I am sure the Knights secondary will be well adjusted to their new roles by that point in the season. Still, I have trouble believing that UCF has the high-end talent in their depth chart to matchup with the numerous weapons that Cincinnati can utilize through the air. I'm not at all trying to insinuate that UCF's defense won't be a challenge, but based on the matchup and Cincinnati's balanced offensive ability, it will be tough to limit Gunner Kiel and company, especially at Nippert Stadium - an advantage that also can't be ignored.
At this point in the list, it's getting harder and harder for the Bearcats. Cincinnati's offense is dynamic and is more than capable of punishing an inexperienced UCF secondary. That said, I highly doubt the defensive backs will be playing like inexperienced players by Week 9. The UCF offense has the potential to be explosive in it's own right, but that is another question mark that won't be answered until they square off with the Cincinnati defense.
UCF has more question marks, more players to replace and has to travel to Nippert Stadium on what could be a chilly October/November day in Ohio. Despite the playmakers across the board for each team, I don't really see this materializing into a shootout. In that case, advantage home team.