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UCF Knights

UCF and Memphis picked to repeat for American Conference Title

Florida Football Insiders

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Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

At their 2018 “Media Kickoff” in Newport, RI, Tuesday, the voters have chosen an instant replay for the American Athletic Conference Championship Game this December. UCF (25 first place votes) and Memphis (23 votes) were picked to represent the East and the West for the Championship.

The voting results were announced just before the media sessions in Rhode Island got underway:

This would be a rematch of the epic double overtime win by the Knights (celebrating in photo above) over the Tigers in Orlando to clinch a 12-0 season and advance to the Peach Bowl. That’s where UCF upset those SEC Tigers and finished perfect at 13-0.

The majority of the voters also believe that first year coach Josh Heupel and returning AAC Offensive Player of the Year, McKenzie Milton, will repeat as champions of the American, as well. As shown above, the Knights got 19 votes to win the title game. Memphis seven.

There were five voters also believe that USF, even with star QB Quinton Flowers lost to graduation, will win the East. And, three of those voters picked the Bulls to win the championship game, also.

The Houston Cougars in the West, also got one championship game winning vote.

UCF and Memphis are playing in the regular season in a game at the home of Elvis on Saturday, October 13th.

The Knights destroyed Memphis in the regular season meeting of 2017 in Orlando. Obviously, the title game rematch was much closer.

And obviously, another critical game for UCF will be the annual “War on I-4” to be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on the Friday after Thanksgiving (November 23rd). The Knights and the Bulls played a phenomenal regular season finale’ won by UCF in dramatic fashion last “Black Friday.” That’s when Mike Hughes scored the winning TD on a kickoff return for a 49-42 win in the final minutes.

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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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UCF Knights

Who can identify with UCF lack of respect? Cincinnati, that’s who

Matt Zemek

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

This Saturday, Brian Kelly will coach away from home, in a professional sports stadium, in the November cold of a northern city, pursuing a national championship against a school which was formerly in the Big East Conference.

These details pertain to Kelly in 2018. He will coach in New York’s Yankee Stadium, leading Notre Dame against Syracuse, formerly a member of the Big East, as the Fighting Irish try to keep their national title dreams alive.

These details also pertain to Kelly nine years ago at this time of year. In 2009, near the end of his team’s season, he coached in the home of the Steelers, Heinz Field, against Pittsburgh, which is also a former member of the Big East. The team Kelly coached on that late-November day was Cincinnati. The Bearcats, if you recall, were chasing their own national championship dream.

How fitting it is, then, that while Kelly tries to hunt down an elusive national title with the Fighting Irish, his former team stands in the way of UCF as the Knights make their own attempt to win a national title.

Are UCF’s playoff hopes realistic? No… but it is well worth remembering that the Colley Matrix — one of the formulas used in the Bowl Championship Series rankings — did rate the Knights as national champions last year after the playoff and the bowl games, which is precisely why that national championship debate contained at least a measure of legitimacy, no matter what the national (read: SEC) pundits said. As long as other unbeaten teams keep losing, UCF and its fans will hold out some hope that even if they don’t make the playoff, they might replicate the Colley Matrix magic of last year.

They will throw another party. No one will stop them. They will enjoy it… IF they can produce another unbeaten season.

UCF might get locked outside the candy store… but it can still create its own sweets, becoming an independent confectioner.

Does this sound familiar? It was almost the situation Brian Kelly’s 2009 Cincinnati team encountered. It fell one game short.

When the 2018 UCF team takes the field against Cincinnati on Saturday, it will be looking at a football school which once carried the frustrations UCF shoulders today.

The 2009 Cincinnati team played in the Big East, whose status did not exist on par with the current Power 5 conferences — SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 — but which enjoyed more stature than the current American Athletic Conference. The Big East’s high-profile bowl victories in the years preceding 2009 — West Virginia over Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl, Louisville over Wake Forest in the 2007 Orange Bowl, West Virginia over Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl — lifted the Big East’s profile.

It was almost enough to get Cincinnati to the 2009 season’s BCS National Championship Game… but not quite.

Cincinnati did what UCF did last year, and is trying to duplicate in 2018: go unbeaten through the regular season. The Bearcats came from behind to win their late-November pressure cooker in Pittsburgh and preserve their perfect slate. They then waited to see if they would get the one big break needed to play Alabama for the whole ball of wax in Pasadena, California.

They came one second from achieving that goal.

A Texas pass from quarterback Colt McCoy — in the final moments of the Big 12 Championship Game against Nebraska — hit a railing in Cowboys Stadium with one second left in regulation. Had that pass not hit the railing, instead hitting the ground after diving a few more feet, Cincinnati likely would have been in the national title game.

Why?

In the final 2009 regular-season BCS standings, Texas — due to its escape against Nebraska — finished second and earned its date with Bama in California. Cincinnati finished third, TCU fourth, and Boise State sixth.

Cincinnati (Big East), TCU (Mountain West), and Boise State (Western Athletic) were all unbeaten… and all were left out of the national championship game. After the bowls, Boise State was the only team other than Alabama which still had a perfect record. The Broncos ended up in the position 2017 UCF inhabited when the final game had been played in January. However, Cincinnati was the team which came closest to qualifying for the national championship-producing main event on the first weekend of December… without getting inside the door. UCF and Ohio State, in their own ways and on their own separate levels, felt that same sting when Alabama was voted in by the committee last year as the No. 4 playoff seed and Clemson’s opponent in the Sugar Bowl semifinal.

The one big difference between 2009 Cincinnati and 2017 UCF — and, perhaps, 2018 UCF if the Knights once again complete a “perfecto” — is that whereas UCF finished the job in its bowl game against Auburn, Cincy was dismantled by another SEC team. The Bearcats were hammered by Florida in the 2010 Sugar Bowl, which was Tim Tebow’s final game as a college football player. Cincinnati was denied a chance to play a postseason game with national championship stakes, but the Bearcats couldn’t throw a perfect-season party in January. UCF took that final step, and the Knights hope to do that again this year.

Yes, it is entirely fitting that Cincinnati is UCF’s opponent this Saturday, with College GameDay in Orlando and the eyes of the nation riveted to UCF’s plight. Brian Kelly might still be chasing a national title with Notre Dame, but Kelly’s first big run at gridiron glory came nine years ago with the program UCF can fully relate to in the present day.

The 2009 Bearcats wish there was a four-team playoff. The 2017 and 2018 Knights wish the AAC of today had the Big East’s level of stature in 2009.

All three teams would have wanted to play Alabama… but two never got the chance, and the 2018 Knights probably won’t receive the same opportunity, either.

Cincinnati then, UCF now. The past and present are brought together this week in Orlando, with College GameDay on hand to magnify a moment which is hardly new or unheard of in 21st century college football.

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