San Antonio, Texas, is the site on Saturday afternoon, as the culmination of the 2018 NCAA Men’s hoop tournament, a.k.a. “The Final Four” takes place. And along with powerhouses Villanova, Kansas and Michigan is a fourth school. A tiny Catholic school in Chicago, that has captured college basketball’s interest the last three weekends, Loyola University-Chicago.
They will take to the floor just after 5 p.m. local time in the Alamodome attempting to defeat the Wolverines and advance to Monday night’s championship game.
The question we wonder for the sport and the state we cover: is this truly similar to the football unbeaten 13-0 season and Peach Bowl victory on January 1st by the UCF Knights?
Let’s quickly compare a couple of things:
Loyola is in downtown Chicago and has an enrollment of just over 16,000. They have a previous NCAA basketball title having won the 1963 Tournament in an overtime championship game win over Cincinnati. They play in a smaller conference, the Missouri Valley, and were only on national t.v., cable or otherwise, starting with the title game of that tournament four weeks ago.
The Ramblers are have become more of a household name by upsetting the likes of the Miami Hurricanes, Tennessee, Nevada and then advanced to the Final Four with a win over Kansas State.
UCF is in downtown Orlando and has over 66,000 enrolled. You are probably much more familiar with what UCF did last fall turning around a disastrous 0-12 2015 season into a wild, perfect 13-0 last year. The Knights were on television somewhere every week and their dramatic Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving win over USF to put them at 11-0 was one of the most watched regular season college football games of the year.
They won the American Conference championship game the following week in equally exciting double overtime over Memphis. And then, were selected and got matched up with SEC power Auburn in Atlanta at the Peach Bowl. Coach Scott Frost, QB McKenzie Milton and a defense led by LB Shaquem Griffin proceeded to stun the Tigers and complete the 13-0 season.
Loyola Chicago is definitely on a big stage Saturday, as more than 20 million people likely will be watching this match-up with Michigan. Their coach is named Porter Moser, their stars have names like Clayton Custer and Marques Townes, and of course, their 98 year old Catholic nun chaplin “Sister Jean” has become one of the most fascinating and hilarious parts of their advancing this far.
And finally, the one difference: despite UCF’s claims, if the Ramblers win, they will actually be playing for the 2018 NCAA title on Monday night. The Knights and their fans could only scream and bellyache about being left out of the 2018 College Football Playoff.
No.There will be no dispute, internet poll, etc., if Loyola wins twice more.
They will be standing on the stage Monday night have pulled off one of the greatest three weekends of upsets sports has seen in the last 50 years or so.
Now, it won’t be easy, as these are the toughest most pressure packed games, against the best opponents they’ve had to date.
But, UCF rose to the challenge at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta on New Year’s Day and thumped Auburn.
What will the Ramblers do Saturday, and maybe even, Monday?
ESPN announces “College Gameday” coming for UCF-Cincinnati
They’re comin’ — to our cit-taaaaaay!
ESPN College GameDay — whose first road trip was connected to another team in the state of Florida, 25 years ago — will pay a visit to UCF. Kirk Herbstreit was part of the announcement on social media:
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) November 11, 2018
The visit makes sense on a weekend in which the amount of high-profile games is sparse: UCF-Cincinnati joins Notre Dame-Syracuse and Iowa State-Texas as the only especially appetizing matchups. ND-Syracuse is being played in a baseball stadium in very cold weather. Iowa State-Texas is on the Longhorn Network. UCF deserved this spotlight, and it will now receive it.
You know what’s coming: The GameDay crew will talk about UCF’s place in the College Football Playoff race, and about the need for college football to give the Group of 5 champion a spot in the playoff. You also know that McKenzie Milton will get some Heisman publicity.
This visit heightens the tensions surrounding UCF’s journey to a second consecutive unbeaten regular season. It raises the stakes for this game against Cincinnati, the one team with an especially legitimate chance of overtaking UCF in the AAC East Division now that South Florida has turned into a pumpkin, as many people suspected it would. (Temple is still alive in the East race, but it lost to UCF head to head and therefore has a narrow path to a possible division title.)
It is entirely understandable for UCF fans to get very emotional and anxious about the playoff debate — ESPN and GameDay will unavoidably intensify that larger theater of discussion and argument. Yet, with the spotlight falling on the Knights in a new and profound way, they must shut out the noise and do the one thing which exists in their power to achieve: WIN.
That’s it. WIN. Just win, baby.
Would it be awesome if Milton throws for 500 yards and six touchdowns?
Would it be fantastic if UCF crushes Cincy by 40 points?
Of course… but this isn’t about padding a stat sheet. This isn’t about “We Want Bama!”
This is about continuing to be a bunch of winners… which UCF has unfailingly managed to sustain for nearly two full seasons.
Just win. Just lock up the AAC East. Secure the spot in the AAC title game. Then win that game. Prevent Utah State from wresting away the Group of 5 championship. Just get another high-end New Year’s Six bowl against an SEC team. Just win that game.
Everyone else in the United States will debate and argue and go mad, one way or the other.
UCF’s best revenge — its only revenge — is to keep that loss column at zero.
Let all the other chips fall where they may… and let ESPN College GameDay marvel at a team which keeps the “O” in Orlando, while adding to those wins in the “W” column.
UCF’s latest win underscores perception problems
Yes, the UCF Knights ran their win streak to 22 victories in a row Saturday afternoon at Spectrum Stadium with a solid win over Navy. And, no one can dispute that the wins keep piling up in Orlando.
However, as the second half unfolded, it was another example of what those knocking the Knights chances of crashing the College Football Playoff will point to: you weren’t impressive enough and/or you’ve had a weak schedule.
The Knights raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and appeared to have it on cruise control. And while they were never really threatened in the second half, they still gave up three long touchdown drives to a 2 – 7 Navy team. And, it made the final score a lot closer than it needed to be at 35 – 24.
You add this on to the national TV game with Temple 10 days ago, where the Knights were seen giving up 40 points and having to scrap into the 4th quarter to win the game over the Owls, and the critics have ammunition that you’re not looking as impressive as you should against lesser competition.
Now, it’s understood that while UCF does have QB McKenzie Milton, who is a special player leading a powerful offense, their defense clearly is not as good as what it was in 2017.
Again, it might be unfair nitpicking, but that, too, will be held against the Knights by their critics.
Further, what’s also going to be held against them is: their strength of schedule. Saturday’s game was yet another opponent that brought nothing to the table in terms of UCF’s resume’.
Coming into the weekend the Knights schedule was ranked 108th in Jeff Sagarin’s USA Today rankings.
The good news is their schedule will get a jolt playing 9-1 Cincinnati next week. It will not be helped as much as they thought two weeks from now, by a USF team that is spiraling downward over the last three games.
And then there’s an AAC Championship Game looming which will likely be against a pretty good Houston team.
Again, the critics will say not nearly good enough and not nearly as impressive
enough, even at 9-0 now.
And days like Saturday don’t give UCF much ammunition to fire back at those critics.
UCF looks for easy Saturday to lead off our college primer
The first time in several weeks all five of The prominent state school programs will be in action on Saturday. Here’s a look at the Slate of games and our primer:
UCF vs. Navy noon, Orlando
The Knights continue with the nation’s longest win streak at 22 games and should get little resistance from the Midshipmen. Navy is really struggling at 2 – 7 coming off of being blown out 42-0 by Cincinnati last week. Quarterback McKenzie Milton will have a chance to pad his stats and all but lock up the American Conference player of the year award.
Unfortunately, it continues to be the case for the Knights that their strength of schedule is not good enough to help them move up in the College Football Playoff rankings from the 12th spot. This game will probably not help in that regard.
Gators vs. South Carolina noon, Gainesville
Florida suddenly finds itself off back-to-back losses and on the verge of losing their way out of a New Year’s Day bowl game. If the Gators were contemplating started backup quarterback Kyle Trask against the Gamecocks today, that ended when he went down with a serious knee injury in Wednesday’s practice. Coach Dan Mullen could still go to freshman Emory Jones in place of Feleipe Franks and they may end up playing both quarterbacks some in this game anyway.
Former Gators coach Will Muschamp leads the Gamecocks in with a 4-3 SEC record. South Carolina won a crazy game at Ole Miss 48-44 last Saturday, as quarterback Jake Bentley threw for 363 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Florida defense will try to lock him down and help the Gators get back on the winning track-finish with a winning record in conference for 2018.
USF at Cincinnati 7 p.m., Cincinnati
The Bulls, who have been humbled in blowout losses in each of their last two games to drop to 7 – 2, have a tall task trying to beat the Bearcats in what will be a chilly Saturday night game. Cincinnati is 8-1 and as we mentioned above, had a laugher with Navy last week. Running back Michael Warren II is 69 yards away from 1,000 on the season and also has 14 touchdowns. Warren had four consecutive 100-yard games earlier in the year.
USF run defense was “swiss cheese” last week against Tulane giving up 300 yards at home, as they were beaten decisively. The game time temp will be in the low 30s and the Bulls will have to be better against the run tonight or it will be another long night for Charlie Strong’s team.
Meanwhile, if you’re at UCF fan, you very much one Cincinnati to win this game to set up the huge matchup in Orlando next week for the Knights, where the Bearcats would be 9-1 and in the top 20.
Miami at Georgia Tech 7 p.m., Atlanta
It seems to be a theme, but another reeling team is the Miami Hurricanes having been whipped by Duke at home last Saturday night, the Canes have now dropped three straight games and there are already growing calls that are now becoming more public that Mark Richt’s job is in trouble.
Now, the Hurricanes have to contend with Georgia Tech and the triple option, which has kicked into gear. The Jackets have won back-to-back games at Virginia Tech and North Carolina. And, Miami now has two be ready to tackle and fundamentally sound for this one or it could get ugly.
It appears Richt will go back to QB N’kosi Perry, the redshirt freshman, who has started a couple of times earlier in the year but has been in and out of the lineup with senior Malik Rosier. Neither quarterback has been consistent this season.
And finally, FSU at Notre Dame 7:30 p.m. South Bend, IN
As our Matt Zemek wrote yesterday, this one is not quite #1 vs. #2 “Game of the Century” of 25 years ago in South Bend. However, the Irish have done their part and are currently number three in the country aiming for the CFP Final Four.
However, they apparently will be without quarterback Ian Book. who suffered a broken rib in the win last Saturday night over Northwestern. That means Notre Dame will go to the starter that began the year Brandon Wimbush, who’s a better runner than thrower.
The bad news is Florida State’s defense has gotten no better as a season is gone on, including being wiped out by NC State last week.
The Seminoles also have a quarterback question. Having played James Blackman last week, who threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns, coach Willie Taggart has not committed as to whether Blackman will start Saturday night. Or he will go back to the starter for the previous eight games, Deondre Francois.
Most Florida State fans will be happy, if the Noles can just keep it close against the Irish.
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