The UCF Knights, who were winless just two seasons ago, are major college football’s only unbeaten team. Later today, UCF is making an appearance in a “New Year’s Six Bowl” for the second time as the best of the non-Power Five conference teams. But, this time they are going for the history books.
No. 7 Auburn (10-3) will look to spoil the Knights bid for a perfect 13-0 year. The Tigers, whose
national championship hopes were dashed with a 28-7 loss in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia on Dec. 2, are capping off a successful season of their own.
Here are three story-lines to follow in the New Year’s Day matchup:
1) Will UCF’s offense continue to roll against Auburn’s Top 10 defense?
UCF comes into the Peach Bowl as the nation’s top scoring team at 49.4 points per game, while Auburn is ranked ninth defensively at 17.3 points. QB McKenzie Milton, the AAC Offensive Player of the Year, and teammates are seventh in passing (339 ypg) and 34th in rushing (202 ypg). The Knights have never scored fewer than 31 this season, while the Tigers have never allowed more than 28 points.
There’s no question that UCF’s offense has been explosive, but Auburn will be the stiffest defense they’ve faced yet. Auburn’s 17th against the pass (183 ypg allowed) and 32nd against the run (135 ypg). We wrote previously that the Knights would not be afraid of Auburn. Now, let’s see that play out.
2) UCF’s defense needs to step it up
In their last two games against South Florida and Memphis, the Knights gave up 42 and 55 points. That amounted to 653 and 753 yards, respectively. UCF’s defense can’t afford to continue that trend against the Tigers. One of their biggest threats will be Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, who was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year.
Johnson has carried the load for the Tigers with 286 touches for 1,508 total yards and 19 touchdowns. UCF’s 67th-ranked rushing defense has been unimpressive, allowing more than 165 ground yards per game.
3) Scott Frost will coach his final game for the Knights
UCF won the American Athletic Conference title with a thrilling 62-55, double-overtime shootout against Memphis on Dec. 2 in what appeared to be third-year head coach Scott Frost’s final game.
Shortly after the championship win, Frost resigned to become Nebraska’s next head coach. However, he’s following through with his word to lead the Knights through the Peach Bowl.
Frost, who is taking his entire staff to Lincoln after the Jan. 1 bowl game, addressed those who believe the outgoing staff isn’t fully committed to UCF’s preparation.
“I know the meaning of the word ‘wearing two hats’ now,” Frost said to the media last week. “They’re both full-time jobs. We’re doing absolutely everything we can to give these guys the best chance that they have. It’s not easy, but I appreciate people on both sides allowing us to do this. … It has been difficult, getting on a plane and flying somewhere and getting back here. It’s not ideal for me, to be honest with you, but it’s the right thing to do and it’s the best thing to do for these young men that have played for us.”
Former Missouri assistant Josh Heupel, who was named UCF’s head coach quickly after Frost’s resignation, is expected to observe his team from the press box for the majority of the game.
Knights-QB Milton did their part in UCF Friday night romp
it was a “points bonanza,” as advertised in Orlando Friday night, and in the end, UCF and it’s leader looked the part of conference champ and playoff contender. This as the Knights cruised to a 56-36 easy win over in state Florida Atlantic.
We wondered if Friday would restart the Heisman Trophy hopes of QB McKenzie Milton and he delivered on a National TV stage big time and early. Milton threw or ran for the Knights first six touchdowns of the game, including this one in the third quarter, where he juked half of the Owls on the field:
— Leger Douzable (@LegerDouzable) September 22, 2018
The junior from Hawaii finished with 387 yards from scrimmage and is definitely one of best dual threat QBs in America that will continue to garner attention.
FAU hung in the game for awhile, largely based on their star RB Devin Singletary. Singletary, the CUSA Offensive Player of the Year, ran for 131 yards and three touchdowns, as FAU was tied at halftime.
Still, the Knights who haven’t lost a game in 600 days, notched another victory in the nation’s longest win streak. They now have 16 straight games dating back to their December bowl loss in 2016.
And if you think UCF’s squad didn’t have some fun on a Friday night in front of over 44,000 at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, think again. After the 20 point win, it was time to dance:
We win. We dance 😁 pic.twitter.com/UfikBDzXQN
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) September 22, 2018
UCF will get a tougher test from Pitt out of the ACC next week, and then later in October, will play a huge American conference regular season road game at Memphis. The Tigers are arguably the best team in the West division and want to avenge having lost both meetings to UCF in 2017. The Knights won a thrilling double OT Championship Game in Orlando last December to lock in a bid to the Peach Bowl.
That’s where they famously stunned SEC powerhouse Auburn earlier this year on New Year’s day.
Back to the 2018 squad, coach Josh Heupel and staff had to deal with an unexpected bye week after Hurricane Florence cancelled their game at North Carolina last Saturday. Needless to say, they had UCF ready for this one.
And, that usually means Milton was ready to show college football he’s one of the players in the game.
He didn’t disappoint, again, Friday.
Will UCF QB Milton kick-start Heisman talk Friday night?
With the understanding that quarterbacks of powerhouse programs like Tua Tagovailoa, Trace McSorley, and Will Grier will be getting most of the national hype throughout the seaason, in our state we know that UCF QB McKenzie Milton deserves to be consider for the Heisman, too.
The junior signal-caller for the Knights has been a bit victimized by the early part of the season and the schedule. First, Milton did get off to a tremendous start in UCF’s opening win at UConn, where he fired five touchdown passes in basically three quarters during a blowout win.
However, the following week against South Carolina State he was not sharp with a couple of early interceptions and even though UCF won impressively, Milton’s numbers of 243 yards, one touchdown and three picks jumped off the page, as a negative.
He and the Knights were looking to ramp the offense back up last weekend in a game against a Power 5 program on the road in North Carolina. But, as you probably know by now, Hurricane Florence wiped out that game, and it will not be made up.
So, it seems as though Milton’s Heisman hype which began back in the summer, has stalled out.
Well, now comes a Friday night showdown with cross-state rival FAU and something very important: national television exposure on a weeknight. You see, for a lot of the media and in particular Heisman voters, Milton’s games are not going to trump ones for Alabama, Penn State Ohio State, and the other Blue Blood programs that they would rather watch. It’s harsh, but it’s true.
So, this is an opportunity for him to light it up against an Owls defense and then, be seen and remembered for it.
FAU was bombed by Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray in their opening blowout loss in Norman, OK, Labor Day weekend. And, coach Lane Kiffin has to be fearful that more of the same may be coming from the potent Knights offense.
Yes, being a shootout with FAU may be possible because they boast running back Devin “Motor” Singletary, who was the CUSA Offensive Player of the Year in 2017.
So, it may be to Milton’s benefit, if FAU can score some in this game keep it close, and Milton gets a chance to play four full quarters and do it well.
If he’s going to make up ground on Tagovailoa and McSorley in particular, who are on national television almost every game, then that’s what Milton is going to have to take advantage of opportunities present themselves.
Friday night at Spectrum Stadium is one such opportunity for Milton and his Knights teammates.
UCF freshman linebacker charged with sexual battery
The first off-field controversy of the UCF football season has happened with the arrest of freshman linebacker Demetrius Mayes on a sexual battery charge.
The alleged incident took place Saturday night in Mayes UCF campus apartment, where a female accuser says Mayes had inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact with her in his bedroom.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the 18 year old freshman from Miami met the accuser at an off-campus party. A UCF campus police report says she woke up undressed in Mayes bedroom, as he was attempting to have sex with her. The accuser went on to tell authorities that Mayes tried to prevent her from leaving the room.
UCF police chief Carl Metzger released a statement Wednesday:
“The UCF Police Department is committed to a thorough, professional investigation of all criminal incidents reported to us, and we’re dedicated to a culture of care that starts by believing the brave survivors who seek our assistance,” Metzger said. “This survivor’s well-being will continue to be a priority for our department and our university.”
As did UCF first-year head coach Josh Heupel:
“This has no place in our program,” Heupel said.”Demetrius Mayes is suspended from all UCF football activities indefinitely. We are focused on ensuring that we provide compassion and support for everyone outside our program that has been affected by this.”
In the report Mayes told police he met the accuser at an off-campus party and took the woman back to his apartment. Mayes says the victim initially consented to sex and that when she told him “I can’t do this,” he stopped, let her get dressed and unlocked the door.
At least one of Mayes roommates, who is an unidentified UCF football player, told the authorities that they tried to warn him he was making a big mistake taking the woman into his bedroom. Apparently, that roommate and others were banging on Mayes bedroom door trying to break up what was going on.
They told UCF police that the accuser exited the bedroom crying and upset.
Mayes was a star at Miami’s Northwestern High School a year ago, where they won the 6A state championship, but he had not played in the first two UCF games against Uconn and South Carolina State.
The Knights did not play last weekend, because their game with North Carolina was canceled by Hurricane Florence.
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