The UCF Knights are everyone’s target after two unbeaten regular seasons and two appearances in prestigious “New Year’s Six” bowl games.
Moreover, “everyone” doesn’t just refer to opposing teams. The national media took note of the scheduling confrontation between UCF and the University of Florida last year. UCF has become the magnet for criticism among smaller schools, akin to Boise State a decade ago.
It is said that America loves an underdog, but college football is an exception. Sure, there is plenty of Alabama and Clemson fatigue in the country, but underdogs acquire targets in this sport because they don’t play SEC or Big Ten schedules.
UCF clamoring for national championship status – in the eyes of many college football fans – represents delusional thinking or outsized talk, if not both. UCF asking for College Football Playoff legitimacy is viewed in a similar fashion.
Every gameday opponent wants to beat UCF. Many fans and much of the media would like to see UCF go down.
If the Knights perceive that everyone is out to get them, it’s not paranoia. It is merely the truth.
Pardon UCF fans if they claim that the outside world is ganging up on their football program. They aren’t wrong.
It is quite fitting, then, that as the Knights – who have already lost at Pittsburgh this year – make a return trip to the Rust Belt to face the Cincinnati Bearcats on Friday night, they are playing three opponents, not merely one.
“Ganging up” is supremely appropriate in framing the nature of the battle for the Knights in Week 6.
The primary opponent for UCF is Cincinnati. This matchup was an ESPN/ABC Saturday night primetime special last year. UCF and Cincy received major-league treatment, and the Knights looked the part of a team which was ready to follow its 2017 unbeaten season with another unblemished regular season in 2018.
This year’s game won’t attract the same national buzz – mostly because UCF has lost a game, partly because there will be four baseball playoff games on Friday – but it is still the game which is likely to decide the AAC East Division championship.
Temple is the only other team in the AAC East with a reasonable chance of causing trouble, but as the season has evolved, it is becoming clearer that Temple is merely a decent team. Its victories over Maryland and Georgia Tech look less impressive in context, given what has happened to those two teams.
It is almost certain that when the smoke clears, UCF and UC will stand at the top of the AAC East. Friday’s game is enormous for that reason alone.
Yet, the Bearcats are hardly the only foe UCF must deal with on Friday. The Knights can look in the mirror to identify a second opponent in Ohio.
It has to be said that UCF – for all the mistakes it made against Pittsburgh – might have left the Steel City with an unbeaten record had it not committed an offside penalty on fourth down on Pitt’s final (winning) drive. UCF put itself in position to lose all day long, but it still had the ability to close the door on the kind of win – a classic Harry Houdini escape – which leads to unbeaten regular seasons.
That final lapse on fourth down – which had nothing to do with Pittsburgh’s quality or tenacity – was UCF’s gift-wrapped donation to an opponent, the kind of play we simply haven’t seen the past two-plus seasons.
As much as Pitt deserved the win and earned the praise it received, UCF had the Panthers on the ropes and handed them a lifeline.
UCF can’t be its worst enemy this Friday. Avoiding self-sabotage is a cornerstone element of a winning performance, not a minor peripheral detail.
The third opponent UCF faces is not just Cincinnati, and not just the Knights themselves. It is a specific emotion which is part of the larger context of this clash: desperation.
This game is Cincinnati’s season. That is not a hyperbolic statement.
Last year’s UC team won 11 games (including a bowl), but did not get a prime postseason destination. Coach Luke Fickell produced a tremendous year, but he didn’t even have a division title to show for it. UCF stood in his way.
UCF-Cincinnati is not a storied college football rivalry the way Ohio State-Michigan is. Yet, the specific dynamic in which one team stands in the other’s way – not just for a division title, but also conference championships and big bowl bids, everything a program covets – clearly applies to this game.
Cincinnati (which already lost to Ohio State in 2019) could win every remaining game on its schedule. Yet, if it doesn’t beat UCF, the Bearcats could go 11-2 for the second straight season and no one would pay much attention.
Fickell might be headed for a Power 5 conference job before too long. He has certainly improved his standing in the coaching marketplace. Yet, if he doesn’t beat UCF, athletic directors and other people in this business will wonder if he really has The Right Stuff.
Cincinnati’s players and coaches – everyone associated with the Bearcat program – will enter Friday night’s game knowing this moment will define their season more than any other.
Cincinnati. Their own selves. The desperation of the moment.
UCF – the team everyone likes to gang up on in the 2019 college football season – plays three opponents Friday night, not merely one.
The Knights will need to display their best fighting qualities when they confront their latest moment of truth on the gridiron.
UCF WR Gabe Davis will turn pro
Next year’s UCF offense took a big hit Wednesday , but in the long run, the player leaving may help the program with more publicity at the next level.
Star wide receiver Gabriel Davis has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the upcoming NFL draft.
— Gabriel Davis (@DavisGB1) December 4, 2019
Davis is a true “Florida Boy” growing up in Sanford, and playingl ball at Seminole High school. He has been dominant in his time at UCF, has become one of the best wideouts in the state, arguably the best in his conference and one of the more underrated players in the country.
His numbers have improved each season. As a freshman, he had 27 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had 53 catches for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Then, this season Davis had 72 catches for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Last season Davis finished on the American All-conference second team. This year, however, he finds himself on the first team and will hope the accolades don’t stop there.
Davis has all of the prototypical traits to be an “X” receiver in the NFL. He has the size at 6’3, but could work on his frame, getting up his listed weight at 212 pounds. In the passing league that is the NFL, teams are always looking for someone with big play ability. Davis is just that, averaging 16 yards a catch for his career.
He has the ability to take the top of a defense with his size and speed, which will intrigue scouts. One area of his game he will likely work on in the offseason will be running after the catch.
We all know his ability to kill you downfield, but scouts will also want to see what he can do catching a short pass. With an absolutely stacked class at the position, it will be interesting to see where Davis goes when the draft rolls around.
Already underrated being from an AAC school expect that to continue during draft time, but also expect him to rise to the occasion.
UCF blows out USF- is it the end for Charlie Strong?
It wasn’t an unexpected result, as UCF won for the third straight time in the rivalry matchup with USF, 34 – 7 Friday night in Orlando. The bigger question is: was it the end for third-year Bulls coach Charlie Strong?
First to the game. The Knights got what they needed in the first half, as freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel led them on three scoring drives to build a 21 – 0 lead from which USF never recovered. Gabriel threw two touchdown passes to his favorite target this season, receiver Gabe Davis (above), and the lead grew to 24 – 0 at the half.
The same pattern continued with USF’s offense as has been the case for much of this season. The Bulls mounted a little to nothing offensively throughout the game until finally breaking through, when running back Johnny Ford scored on a fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter. That trimmed the lead to 24 – 7.
However, Backup QB Darriel Mack led the next Knights answer going 82 yards in 8 plays with Mack carrying two yards for UCF’s final TD of the evening and all but, putting the game away.
The win was UCF’s ninth on the season and they await to find out what bowl game the American Conference will slot them in. This is the first time in three years that the Knights have not played in the championship game of the American Conference. They won the previous two defeating the Memphis Tigers both times and ended up playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game each time, as well.
That included their loss in the Fiesta Bowl to LSU a year ago, which stopped their 25 game win streak.
Back to the Bulls, the loss was their fourth straight to end the year and Strong’s team limped to the finish line at 4 – 8. When you combine this season with losing the remaining six games a year ago, that’s 14 losses in the last 18 games played for Strong’s teams. Friday night was also the fifth loss by 27 points or more for USF this season.
So now, we all wait to see if USF Athletic Director Michael Kelly, who was hired last year, will get rid of the former Texas and Louisville coach or give him one final shot to turn it around in 2020?
Strong is reportedly owed at least $5 million for the remaining two years on his five-year deal that he agreed to in December of 2016.