UCF Matchup Preview
Well, well, well, Mr. Gus Malzahn, welcome to the AAC. Down the Drive hopes the transition from the Southeastern Conference treats you well.
What awaits you are new faces, unfamiliar teams and most importantly, an annual date with the Cincinnati Bearcats.
It’s a battle for dominance in the conference. A last chance to impress the College Football Playoff Committee. Your ticket at earning the respect of the ten other teams within the American Athletic.
And while Auburn has certainly taken part in some great games and rivalries over the years, you’ll find this matchup be no cakewalk, Mr. Malzahn.
Ironically, the series history between Cincinnati and Gus Malzahn’s new team doesn’t entail much. The Bearcats and Knights played each other in 2015 for the first time in their college football backgrounds. They’ve traded blows on five occasions since then, with the overall head-to-head record deadlocked at three a piece.
UCF garnered a string of triumphs from 2016-2018; however, the Bearcats currently hold a win streak of two in the series.
UCF 2020 Season In Review
Cincinnati’s top in-conference rival produced arguably its worst season since the first (and only) losing season of the Scott Frost era. The Knights, while opening up as a usual fringe top 25 program, faltered in a trio of close games during the main course of the season.
First was a 26-34 loss to Tulsa, followed by nail-biter disappointments against Memphis (49-50) and Cincinnati (33-36). Then came their only multiple-possession defeat came against a one-loss BYU (23-49) in the Boca Raton bowl, which certified their place outside of the top 25.
We try to avoid hyping up our rivals here at Down the Drive, but man oh man was UCF’s offense wicked good last year. Malzahn takes control of a squad that totaled a whopping 568 yards (2nd highest in CFB) and 42 points (eight highest) per game on average.
The Knights finished second overall in team offense thanks to the likes of quarterback Dillon Gabriel, who threw for 570 total yards and 32 touchdowns in 2020. He returns to the offense alongside seven other starters from last year-including all five of the guys on the line.
The team’s experienced receiver core, meanwhile, seems to represent transfer central. Five of the eight names on the depth chart (Brandon Johnson, Jaylon Robinson, Dionte Marks, Jordan Johnson and Nate Craig-Myers) called themselves a member of another school at some point in their collegiate careers.
Only the run game sees few questions, with the main talent revolving around a string of backs in their sophomore seasons. Johnny Richardson will qualify as the leader- he tallied 11 carries for 65 yards and a TD-although RJ Harvey and Mark-Anthony Richards should get a few a carries here and there as well.
Notable departures: QB McKenzie Milton, RB Greg McCrae, RB Otis Anderson and RB Bentavious Thompson
A top three offense and 6-4 record? That’s one way to know you have a lot (and we mean a whole lot) of problems elsewhere.
On the contrary to their second ranked offense, UCF finished at 123 in total team defense.
(Gee UCF, Gus Malzahn ought to be the next Lincoln Riley with a team like this.)
The Knights were absolutely abysmal when it mattered, allowing an average of 500 yards and 33 points per game.
Oh, and the penalties were even worse. UCF broke the rules on 92 occasions (126th in the FBS) throughout the course of the season.
The good news? Most of their starters-nine-are back. They receive assistance from former Auburn Tiger and Malzahn product Big Kat Bryant on the line, someone who should aid a grieving pass rush.
Notable departures: DT Kenny Turnier, DE Randy Charlton and S Richie Grant
Arguably the most important and equal-sided game in Cincinnati-UCF history will come full circle on October 16th. Cincinnati-UCF. The Bearcats vs the Knights. Desmond Ridder vs Dillon Gabriel. Luke Fickell vs Gus Malzahn.
The difference? The 40,000 or so of the Nippert Faithful booming in the stands.
UCF 2020 Season Preview
A challenging slate of games for the UCF Knights from start to finish? Is the sky falling or something?
(No, it’s actually been this way for a while. The College Football Playoff Committee just fails to see it.)
The overall schedule does seem daunting, but after all, he deals with those words every year. A few worthy opponents here and there won’t deter him from his preseason goals.
Final Prediction: 11-1, appearance in AAC Championship Game