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.
USF and UCF got American Conference 2020 schedules Tuesday
On Tuesday afternoon the American Athletic Conference made official is 2020 football dates for opponents for its conference members. And, that means UCF and USF got to look for the first time at their full conference slates and when they are playing whom.
First for the Knights, they learned that they will open year three of coach Josh Heupel’s conference play on Thursday night September 24th at East Carolina. It is one of three stand-alone weeknight(day) games UCF has on their schedule.
The next one will be Friday night October 16th, as UCF travels to play the Memphis Tigers. That’s a team that the Knights defeated for two Conference Championship Game victories in 2017 and 18.
— American Football (@American_FB) February 18, 2020
UCF will also play a traditional “War on I-4” game with the rival Bulls on the Friday after Thanksgiving November 27th. This will be the fourth straight year of playing on “Black Friday.”
As for the Knights other part of the league schedule, they will have their AAC home opener with Tulsa on Saturday October 3rd and then, finish the slate with two huge home matchups with Temple Saturday November 14th followed by Cincinnati at Spectrum Stadium the following week.
For the Bulls, who welcome first year coach Jeff Scott in 2020, they will only have two standalone appearances in conference play. Those will be a Friday night home game October 23rd with Tulsa and then, the previously mentioned final rivalry game with UCF on Friday November 27th.
The Bulls first conference game of the season will be at Cincinnati on October 3rd, while the home opener is East Carolina the following week at Raymond James Stadium.
USF has a tough road slate beginning at Temple on October 17th and then, after the Friday night home game with Tulsa, playing at Memphis November 7th and at Houston November 14th.
The conference is playing 2020 with only 11 members, as UConn has departed and gone back to the Big East. This will also be the first time that the AAC doesn’t play a two six team division format and will instead take the top two ranked teams in conference play for it’s December Championship Game.
Speedy former UCF RB Killins looks to impress at Shrine Bowl
One-player eager to start showcasing himself Saturday afternoon in the pre-draft process in St Petersburg is former UCF speedster RB, Adrian Killins.
Killins ,who just finished four years of highlight runs and touchdowns for the the Knights will participate in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
— East-West Shrine Bowl (@ShrineBowl) December 2, 2019
Killins is generously listed at 5’9 and 165 lb. and came UCF without much fanfare from Daytona Mainland High School. However, he had been an explosive player on the football gridiron, and he was also a former two time 3A State 200m track champion before coming to Orlando.
Once at UCF in 2016, Killins immediately showed off his explosiveness and moniker of “fastest player in college football” with a 100-yard kickoff return at ECU and an 87 yard touchdown run at “the Big House” in Ann Arbor against Michigan.
His best season was his sophomore year, when he was named First Team All American Athletic Conference RB, as he rushed for 790 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead UCF. He showed versatility and caught another additional 25 passes for 169 yards.
He also set a UCF record for longest play from scrimmage that still stands, in the UCF regular season win over Memphis, as he took a handoff and the looked like a missle racing down the sideline:
Longest run in @UCF_Football history ✔️
Longest run in @American_FB history ✔️
2nd-longest in NCAA this year ✔️
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 1, 2017
Killins helped the Knights experience their greatest season ever at 13 – 0 with not only a thrilling double-overtime conference title game rematch win over the Tigers, but a New Year’s Day upset of SEC Powerhouse Auburn in the Peach Bowl for the perfect season.
His next two years under Josh Heupel and his new coaching staff were not as spectacular. But, he still he would make the occasional explosive run and finished his career with over 1,700 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.
He did leave a final impression with his 115 yards and 1 TD in the regular season finale with USF.
Now, he knows that with his smaller size, even with blazing speed, he will be challenged to stick on an NFL roster, and another way might be as a kick returner. Killins left UCF with a career 21.8 avg on 47 returns as a Knight.
He will likely need to show that part of his game to help him get a realistic shot at the next level. And, we wait to see if there will be explosive plays from him Saturday.