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Simulating Cincinnati at UCF

An upstart UCF team awaits the Bearcats on Saturday. What can we expect?

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

One thing this election cycle taught us is that projections, simulations and polls aren’t always reliable. That doesn’t mean we will stop doing them. That is as true at Down the Drive as anywhere else.

Last Halloween, the Cincinnati Bearcats faced the UCF Knights for the first time ever. UC enjoyed the encounter quite a bit, posting a 52-7 win over a team that would go winless in 2015. UCF is far from winless this season. It is currently a win away from bowl eligibility (5-4) and sitting in third place in the American Athletic Conference East Division standings (3-2). That means UC (4-5, 1-4) is playing the role of underdog this time around, with the Knights opening as 10-point favorites.

If games were played on paper in Las Vegas casinos, then we’d know just how this game will work out. Fortunately, they are not played there. They also aren’t played in computer simulations, but perhaps using such a thing will give of us an indication of what to expect, even if any prognostication is never a 100 percent lock.

Before we get started, here is the disclaimer. The simulation site used (WhatIfSports.com) has not updated to include 2016 football rosters. However, with some slight tweaks, we can at least form a facsimile of the makeup of the Bearcats and the Knights. We can also adjust the weather, which calls for partly sunny skies, temperatures in the mid 70s and light winds on Saturday afternoon in Orlando according to AccuWeather.com. Here are the results of five simulations.

Cincinnati 17 UCF 9

Despite an atrocious game from Gunner Kiel, the Bearcats manage to squeak out a victory. Kiel is intercepted four times, wiping away the 266 yards and two touchdowns he throws for. Devin Gray catches seven passes for 94 yards as the lead receiver and Tion Green mashes out 50 yards as the feature back since Mike Boone is sidelined. DJ Dowdy catches a 10-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and the Bearcats close the door with 1:35 to play on a 14-yard touchdown reception by Kahlil Lewis. UC’s defense carries the team in the win, holding UCF’s McKenzie Milton to 93 yards on 8-of-27 passing.

Cincinnati 24 UCF 21

The Bearcats storm their way to a 24-7 lead entering the fourth quarter, with Lewis, Green and Nate Cole all finding the end zone. However, UCF slowly claws its way back into contention, getting two field goals in the fourth quarter before Tre’Quan Smith catches his second touchdown of the game, followed by a successful two-point conversion.

UCF gets two more chances to tie the game or pull ahead, but Zach Edwards has none of it, picking off passes from Milton on back-to-back drives before UC goes into victory formation. Edwards finishes with three interceptions to lead the victory while Kiel puts forth an OK outing (18-of-35, 233 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs).

UCF 28 Cincinnati 25

After the two teams enter halftime tied at 7-7, the second half is an eruption of scoring, unfortunately one that goes in favor of UCF. The Knights get it done by pounding the ball on the ground, rushing for 252 yards as a team and scoring four touchdowns via the run, including two from Milton.

Kiel throws for 343 yards and two touchdowns, but is intercepted once and completes less than 50 percent of his pass attempts (22-of-50) while being sidelined for a spell in the third quarter. In his place, Hayden Moore orchestrates a touchdown drive, completing 4-of-6 pass attempts for 56 yards and a touchdown to Gray.

Kiel returns and leads the comeback attempt that comes up short, throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cole midway through the fourth quarter, but UC is never able to get another score.

Cincinnati 44 UCF 31

Kiel dazzles in a 318-yard, four-touchdown effort, slinging scoring strikes to Tshumbi Johnson, Gray, Cole and Green. His passing efforts are needed as the Bearcats manage only 2.1 yards per carry and finish with 63 yards on the ground. UCF runs a more balanced attack, finishing with 217 yards rushing and 216 through the air. However, three interceptions from Milton doom the Knights to loss.

Cincinnati 34 UCF 27 (OT)

Cole catches an eight-yard pass in overtime to lead UC to a stunning victory, allowing UC to come back from a 14-0 deficit in the second quarter. Cole has a fine day, with four receptions for 78 yards and the game-winning touchdown, but Gray is the star, catching nine passes for 123 yards and two scores. Kiel tosses those three scoring strikes and finishes with 372 yards on 27-of-48 passing. For UCF, Jawon Hamilton (94 yards) and Adrian Killins (92 yards) are effective on the ground, but Milton gets picked off once and completes only 14-of-35 pass attempts, while UCF misses two field goals.

Indications from these simulations would give a slight edge to UC, but the computers may be too kind to the Bearcats. It is true that UCF will likely run the ball more than pass and it will take some strong defensive play and some magic from the offensive playmakers for UC to pull off the upset. Whether or not that upset actually occurs is much less of a certainty.