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Hurricane Florence threatens Carolinas- UCF vs UNC game in jeopardy

Florida Football Insiders

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It’s that time of year- Hurricane season, but in this case it’s not a September one aimed at our state, but rather a powerful one that is headed for the Carolinas later this week that has great concern.

As of Monday afternoon, Hurricane Florence is now at 130 mph, and gaining steam. Further, it’s expected to be a powerful “Category Four” storm and expected to do major damage with wind, rain and flooding to the East coast. The current “cone” or predicted path, has Florence making landfall late Thursday evening through Friday morning anywhere from South Carolina to North Carolina to Virginia.

State of Emergencies have been declared. And, evacuations are already taking place.

Now, with the understanding that sports is obviously distant on the priority list, there is still a full slate of college football that is scheduled to be played in that region. This will be starting with Thursday night’s Wake Forest/Boston College ACC game scheduled for Winston-Salem in the middle of North Carolina. It’s probably a matter of time before the ACC moves that game to a different location, if possible, or postpones it, for now.

And, on the Saturday schedule at noon Eastern? UCF is supposed to be traveling to Chapel Hill, NC, (more in the East of the state) to play the Tarheels.

It’s safe to say that every game in the region is at best going to be moved, if not completely cancelled.

This is something that the entire state of Florida dealt with, as game after game was postponed or outright cancelled a year ago because of Hurricane Irma.

That included UCF cancelling it’s game with Memphis, after the Tigers had already been given the go ahead on Friday to fly to Orlando to play the game on Saturday.

The Knights also ended up cancelling their home game with Georgia Tech the following week.

Now, we go back to this weekend.

As it’s a non-conference game, it will UNC’s call primarily as to what to do, in consultation with the authorities and also, for UCF to travel safely.

Certainly, the ACC could steps to help move the UNC game to another location, however, that’s not likely.

At his Sunday afternoon news conference, Knights head coach Josh Heupel was asked about what he knew about the game still being played or not?

“(I) Have no idea what’s going to end up happening with the Hurricane itself, much less the game. So, you just go on preparing as is,” Heupel told the media.

Well, now there is a much better idea of the storm bearing down on that region

If you are wondering, the Knights (October 27th) and North Carolina (October 6th) do not have a mutual off date. So, that complicates the game being made up and jeopardizes it being played altogether.

And for N.C. State in nearby Raleigh, they have an ACC home game with top 10 West Virginia Saturday, and Clemson is hosting Georgia Southern and on and on.

It’s a watch and wait situation, but unless the Heels have an alternate location well to East etc., then the  that’s not really going to be an option.

So, the Knights are looking at the possibility of losing a “Power Five” match-up for the second straight year due to a Hurricane.

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UCF Knights

UCF needs to fully “trust” itself Friday at USF

Matt Zemek

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

“Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

That saying and its recognizable variations come from the Free Speech Movement and other student protest movements of the 1960s, with Berkeley, California, being the epicenter.

Friday afternoon in Tampa, the UCF Knights need to trust themselves for over 30 minutes against the USF Bulls.

Why this use of 30 minutes for the Knights in their attempt to preserve an unbeaten regular season for a second straight year? If you notice something about UCF and USF in November, the simple yet profound point of differentiation between the two teams is that UCF is figuring out how to solve problems in second halves, while USF is not. UCF is playing 60-minute games, while USF is playing well or moderately well for only 30.

Trust over 30 is the neat and tidy way to frame this game.

Let’s address the USF side of the ledger before returning to UCF, the star of the show in this AAC version of a Sunshine State showdown known as, “The War on I-4.”

USF was the student who did his homework in the car while mom drove him to school.

The Bulls, even when they were unbeaten, played mediocre football for large portions of games but managed to pull through in fourth quarters. USF embodied another saying: “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” Everyone who has followed USF this season knew that the Bulls would have to clean up their habits. They couldn’t Bull-sh** their way through uneven and incomplete performances against the backloaded part of their 2018 schedule.

You can see very clearly that USF hasn’t addressed this challenge… and you can just as clearly see the results (or lack thereof).

USF needed to at least split these last four games to walk away with a season it could feel satisfied about. Houston, Cincinnati, Temple, UCF needed to be 2-2 at worst. Instead, the Bulls are 0-3 with the toughest game still to come against the unbeaten Knights. USF is a “half-a-loaf” team in terms of playing 30 good minutes per game instead of 60 or even (at least) 50. USF is also a half-a-loaf team in that sometimes the defense is the unit playing well, and sometimes the offense is the unit playing well, but the two units rarely play well at the same time.

USF is a team of half-measures, not whole solutions. That reality keeps emerging from the games the Bulls have played this season. This team couldn’t kick its bad habits, the Temple loss this past Saturday being a perfect representation of a very imperfect team. USF slapped a 17-0 first half on the Owls in Philadelphia, one of the best halves of the whole year.

It didn’t last.

The Bulls, a two-touchdown underdog, just needed to be moderately good in the second half after their excellent first half. Instead, they got smoked, 27-0, in the 30 minutes after halftime.

They didn’t trust themselves “over 30.”

They haven’t done so all year.

This brings us back to UCF and the battle in Raymond James Stadium on Friday.

Last year, USF played its best game of the season, but UCF was able to match and ultimately exceed the Bulls in a classic. The 2017 UCF-USF game was one of the highlights of the entire college football season — not just for the two programs, but viewed on a national scale. There were few better games played anywhere in the United States last season. That’s because USF had a very high ceiling on offense with Quinton Flowers and its other dazzling skill players.

This year’s USF team doesn’t have the same high ceiling of the 2017 group. It also hasn’t merited the same degree of trust as last year’s Bulls. However, Blake Barnett — as shown against Georgia Tech and Houston, among other opponents — is clearly capable of establishing a lofty standard when playing at his best. It comes across as entirely reasonable to think that USF has one really, really good half of football in the fuel tank this Friday.

That’s where UCF’s “trust over 30” comes into play.

UCF played a terrible defensive first half against Temple on November 1. The Knights played a subpar first 20 minutes against Cincinnati this past weekend, but made timely plays on defense and special teams to keep the Bearcats’ offense off the scoreboard. (UCF allowed an early touchdown to Cincinnati’s defense.) Yet, after losing focus on defense (Temple) or getting smacked in the mouth on offense (Cincy) in first halves, UCF absorbed those punches and dominated after halftime.

The Knights have shown that they are good long-distance runners, which only makes sense: You don’t get to the position the Knights currently inhabit — two wins from back-to-back perfect regular seasons — without knowing how to roll with the punches and handle the ups and downs of in-game action.

So much of “coachspeak” might turn off fans or commentators as being cliched to the point of being meaningless, but one piece of boilerplate coaching motivation remains rock-solid and relevant after all these years: Focus on the next play.

Coaches — even if unenlightened about analytics or behind the times in terms of endgame management — all understand this central piece of wisdom as competitors: You have to focus on the next play. You can’t think about the previous play or look ahead to the big game next week. Athletes must constantly reset the dial and tend to what is right in front of them, nothing more or less. Having a short memory is essential to success in sports. Being anywhere other than the present moment is an invitation to failure. UCF — especially McKenzie Milton — thrives in this regard.

Milton showed this short memory against Cincinnati. He missed a lot of throws in the early going. On a few occasions, his receivers didn’t help him out. Yet, if he threw two incompletions on a series of downs, he would come back on 3rd and 10 and throw a perfect strike for a touchdown or a huge gain. He didn’t let frustrating moments continue to hijack his performance. He wiped his slate clean and kept throwing punches which eventually hit their intended target. That’s the persistence and tunnel vision Milton and UCF have used to get where they are.

That tunnel vision is precisely what needs to accompany the Knights when they take the field against USF.

I can readily imagine USF playing a great half, and possibly scoring 31 points in the first half on Friday. Where USF is much harder to trust is in its ability to play two complete halves.

UCF, when it gave up 34 first-half points to Temple on Nov. 1, scored 28 points to keep that game close at halftime. In the second half, UCF’s offense kept chugging along while the defense found solutions. That could form the template for UCF’s game this Friday: 30 minutes might be very scary and problematic for the Knights, but if they trust themselves “over 30” and play the full 60, they have to think that their talent will win out against USF’s half-a-loaf identity.

Human beings worry about the future. They also cling to the past, either in lamentation or in a desire to recapture something which will never exist again. The spiritual teachers say that “being in the now” is the only way to achieve clarity and peace of mind. UCF has been far better at doing that than USF in 2018. That’s exactly what the Knights need to bring to the table, one more time, in this battle of Florida schools in the American Athletic Conference.

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UCF Knights

UCF Knights show their armor in rugged win over Cincinnati

Matt Zemek

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

College GameDay came to Orlando to give the UCF Knights a unique spotlight near the end of the 2018 college football season. This moment won’t be replicated in the near future. With the arrival of college football’s foremost traveling road show came a fresh truckload of pressure for the Knights — to validate the national hype, to do well in front of some well-known guests who pay a house call, and to avoid stumbling when given such a platform.

UCF faced the burden of needing to do what it had to do to keep all its goals alive, but it also faced a different yet real form of additional anxiety: needing to avoid embarrassing itself. The fear of failure manifests itself in the thirst for riches, to not be denied achievements. Yet, the same fear of failure is also embodied in the terror human beings experience when they contemplate what it feels like to be embarrassed when everyone else is watching.

GameDay coming to Orlando added that latter source of weight to UCF’s basket. The Knights already felt the pressure of trying to win the AAC East, secure a berth in the AAC title game, and continue their unbeaten season. GameDay introduced the reality of wanting to impress the pretty girl who watches from the stands. “I don’t want to disappoint her” was part of this night for the Knights against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Indeed, UCF did not disappoint all the important people or look bad in front of the cameras. The Knights were hardly the picture of precision, but that’s more than okay. Though imprecise, they were tough as nails, a welcome sight for the ESPN onlookers and the ABC broadcast team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit. In many ways, UCF’s ability to win this way — and not in a sleeker, sexier, more dazzling way — was the perfect identity to broadcast to the rest of the nation in prime time.

This team has an iron fist underneath the velvet glove of its skill-position speed and McKenzie Milton’s quarterbacking artistry.

The obvious — and not completely wrong — criticism about UCF and other teams like the Knights: “They ain’t played nobody, PAWWWWL!” It’s the burden the UCFs of the world always face. They don’t play Big Ten or SEC schedules. We know this. The detail which is less appreciated by the national media: It’s harder for schools in UCF’s position to get home-and-home deals with these elite schools. It’s also hard to know when to schedule a big game at a neutral site — who at UCF could have known a few years ago, for instance, that the Knights would go from outhouse to penthouse so quickly, thanks to Scott Frost? The timing needed for the UCFs of college football to find — and beat — an elite opponent in the regular season is so precise as to be unreasonable. All the UCFs of the world want is a chance to prove themselves against the best.

The 2018 AAC — with South Florida crashing and burning in November and no one in the AAC West Division avoiding mediocrity — simply hasn’t given UCF the chance to do what Big Ten or SEC teams get to do every year: Play at least two or three high-end games on the regular-season schedule. Precisely because the 2018 slate hasn’t enabled people outside the state of Florida to appreciate UCF’s quality, a lot of observers watched this time anticipating that UCF would engage in a shootout.

College football pundits recall the 62-55 UCF win over Memphis in last year’s AAC Championship Game. No, a lot of commentators who gave the AAC their first close-up look in this game probably weren’t expecting 117 points to be scored, but they were probably expecting something in the area of at least 70 to 80 points.

UCF’s defense? Since when is UCF’s defense any good? Those who might have watched UCF in a previous instance probably focused on the Nov. 1 Thursday night game against Temple in which UCF was eviscerated in the first half. Even if you DID pay at least some attention to the AAC before this contest against Cincinnati, you would not have been completely unreasonable to think that the Knights would surrender a large amount of points. You also probably would have thought that Milton would put on his cape and be the hero of the evening.

It didn’t work out that way… and UCF actually looks like a more complete team as a result.

The Knights hammered Cincinnati 38-13, but the emphasis is on hammering, as in winning with brute force and strength.

QB McKenzie Milton was not poor in this game, but he was not at his very best, either. He overshot a number of receivers and was not on the same page as his intended targets on a number of plays. Cincinnati scored a defensive touchdown, and UCF failed on a fourth and one deep in Cincinnati territory. Other great UCF drive starts led to zero points because UC’s defense was able to stuff the Knights at the line of scrimmage. This was one of the more physical defenses the Knights faced all year Had their opponent offered more of a threat on offense, this game could have become a lot more difficult.

But that’s the thing: UCF made an opposing offense look BAD. How many ESPN personalities or ABC broadcasters were anticipating that? How many people who hadn’t paid attention to AAC football this season, and were finally giving the Knights a full evaluation, thought this team had the ability to turn in THAT performance — with nastiness, ruthlessness, and hard-nosed toughness which punched Cincinnati in the mouth and pounded the Bearcats into submission?

UCF’s defense allowed one score. It pitched a shutout through three quarters. This was not the AAC video game so many outsiders expected it to be.

It was better. It was a display of a team which is much more than its Heisman candidate quarterback. It was a show of strength from a team which is more than just a pretty-looking offense.

This was a full team effort. It took resourcefulness on a night when the offense wasn’t purring with supreme efficiency. It took resilience when Cincinnati kept moving into scoring territory in the first half… and the Knights kept turning the Bearcats away.

This is the toughness of a team which is now two wins from a second straight perfect regular season.

The pretty girl known as College GameDay was impressed by the UCF Knights. Their armor shined, and revealed to the nation a layer of quality a lot of skeptics probably didn’t think this team possessed.

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UCF Knights

Games to watch Saturday for UCF College Football Playoff hopes

Florida Football Insiders

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The hype and build up for UCF’s appearance as the host school for ESPN “College GameDay” live show Saturday morning and then the national television broadcast of their game with Cincinnati is continuing. On the field, we will keep track of what else needs to happen in front of the Knights for them to have any possible shot at the four team College Football Playoff.

With the understanding, that UCF is in at #11 in the latest CFP rankings, they’re going to need numerous losses in front of them to pave the way.

So here’s the quick look at this week:

We had F.F.I., like many, believe that Alabama can even take a loss and will still be in the playoff. That is also probably the case with Clemson. The Tide are hosting FCS, the Citadel, and should win by 40 points Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, number to Clemson plays ACC foe Duke at home Saturday night and should also win. So, keep them unbeaten at 1 and 2.

A very intriguing game for UCF’s hopes to move up is Notre Dame playing Syracuse at Yankee Stadium. The third-ranked unbeaten Irish have only two games remaining with this one and then, at USC next weekend.

UCF has to have some losses and Syracuse has a chance with the Irish-probably a better chance in the Trojans have. Stay tuned for that.

The CFP fourth-ranked team, Michigan, hosts Indiana, whom they will beat easily but then, the Wolverines play their massive rivalry game at Columbus against Ohio State next week.

Speaking of the Buckeyes, they are in College Park, Maryland to play the Terps and should be able to win. However, if they were to stumble against a Maryland team with a losing Big Ten record, that would eliminate Ohio State from any playoff consideration. And it would mean UCF should jump in front of the Buckeyes with their other loss being Purdue.

You can also make the argument that the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State game next week should also be behind UCF, because it will be their second loss. And, they will have not even won their division, much less the Big Ten Championship Game.

That is not likely to happen, but it still could happen in terms of ranking UCF in front of a two loss Big Ten team.

As far as the Big XII, the game to watch is West Virginia Saturday afternoon at Oklahoma State. The one loss Mountaineers control their own destiny to win the title game and potentially be in the playoff. However, Oklahoma State already has a win at home over Texas and had a chance to beat arch rival- Oklahoma in the final minute at Norman last week.

A Cowboys upset of the Mountaineers would basically eliminate them as well, as it would be West Virginia’s second defeat.

Also looming, is the Black Friday West Virginia vs. Oklahoma game, where someone is guaranteed a second loss in that one. And the loser will have not won the Big 12 Conference.

Again UCF would have an argument that they should be in front of that two loss team.

Finally in the Pac-12, 8th ranked and one loss Washington State controls its own destiny to win the Pac-12 championship and potentially, be in the playoff. They are hosting Arizona Saturday night before playing their rivalry game with Washington next week. Then, would come a potential Pac-12 championship game.

A loss to Arizona at home, which already has five losses on the season, would not only be the Cougars second loss, but again, UCF would have a strong argument to be in front of them in the rankings.

Bottom line for the Knights is keep winning, and keep hoping for some help and losing in front of them.

Then the rankings may break their way over the next couple of weeks.

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