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UCF Knights

UCF playing three opponents in Cincinnati

Matt Zemek

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Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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    Goldinohio

    October 3, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    “Much of the media”.? Come on. You have to be wrongly including bloggers as “media” here to be able to claim it as Much. This is written more like an editorial of Your opinion instead of a factual article with any research or facts.

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UCF Knights

Final Power Rankings for 2019

Florida Football Insiders

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the final edition of our 2019 power rankings headed into the bowl onslaught and the final Sunday of NFL football. The teams at the top should look familiar, including two that have won their bowl game already. and the final three have definitely deserved to be moved up or into the final list.

Florida Gators – the Gators are prepping for Monday night’s Orange Bowl against the Virginia Cavaliers and will hold down the top spot in the power rankings to dnd season based on their overall consistent performance. A second straight 10-win year and also “New Year’s Six” bowl game validates the hire and the hard work of Dan Mullen, his staff and the players. You consider the Florida’s only two losses in the toughest college conference in land are to #1  LSU and rival Georgia, who won the East and is in the Sugar Bowl themselves.

So, it’s been a good season. Now, can they cap it off what they did a year ago with a Peach Bowl win over Michigan?

UCF Knights – As we wrote on Monday, they finished with a third straight 10-win season by hammering the Marshall Thundering Herd in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa. Freshman QB Dillon Gabriel (above) showed great poise, skill and potential for the future throughout the season. He threw two more touchdowns and ran for another, while being named the Bowl MVP.

UCF clearly has the arrow pointing up and has established itself, as the second-best program in the state behind the Gators.

FAU Owls- A great finish to the regular season, a Conference USA title game win and now, a Boca Raton Bowl win over SMU last Saturday brings the Owls to finish third on our list. Even though coach Lane Kiffin has departed to take over at Ole Miss, former USF, Oregon and FSU coach Willie Taggart slid-into Boca Raton and has a great chance to succeed right away.

Quarterback Chris Robison continued to play well throughout the close of season, including in the win over the Mustangs last Saturday. FAU won 10 games for the second time in three years and is deserving of this slot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Even though the Bucs had their four-game winning streak snapped last Saturday by the Houston Texans, they still have played consistent, good football in the second half of the year and had gotten their record to 7-7.

Yes, QB Jameis Winston has been maddening with the interceptions, but also has been smashing single-game passing records and has been a key part of them being able to score/win games. But, after three more picks last week, Winston needs a good performance in the finale’ with the Falcons Sunday to quiet down the critics that the Buccaneers part with him after this season.

Tampa Bay’s defense under coordinator Todd Bowles has also approved, particularly their secondary where they have spent numerous premium draft picks over the last few years. A win Sunday would only be the third time this decade the Buccaneers don’t have a losing season.

Miami Dolphins – They come off a dramatic overtime win over the lowly Bengals last week in a game, where they collapsed but still found a way to win. It was their fourth one of the season after an 0 – 7 start and clearly the team is playing hard for coach Brian Flores and his staff at the end.

We are still puzzled as to why they insist on not playing QB Josh Rosen in these meaningless games, but it likely means GM Chris Grier and Flores have decided that Rosen is being cut at the end of this season and they will simply eat $4 million dollars in dead cap money.

Finally, the development of DeVante Parker hass continued as he went over 1,000 yards receiving last week and got a contract extension with a bunch of guaranteed money. And, while Miami does have numerous holes to fill, they have a chance to be a .500 team in 2020, if they keep trending in the right direction.

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UCF Knights

UCF uses fast start to blast Marshall in Gasparilla Bowl

Florida Football Insiders

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The UCF Knights only had to come about an hour across I-4 to Tampa for their bowl experience this past weekend. And on Monday, they made the most of their short trip and hammered C-USA foe, Marshall, 45-28 to capture the Gasparilla Bowl. And in the process, UCF finished with 10 wins for the third straight year.

The Knights, out of the American Athletic Conference, had played in a “New Year’s Six” bowl game in each of the last two years, losing to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl last season, but upsetting Auburn in the Peach Bowl for a perfect 13 – 0 year in 2017.

However, if Monday was supposed to be anti-climactic for coach Josh Heupel’s club, they certainly didn’t show it, as right away they jumped all over the Thundering Herd.

Playing most of the first half in a steady rain, defensive back Richard Grant returned an interception 39 yards for a score in the first minute of the game. Then the Knights turned a Marshall fumble quickly into a Greg McCrae 26 yard touchdown run (above) and the game was 14-zip less than six minutes in.

Then, LB Tre-on Morris – Brash picked up this botched backwards screen pass and raced into the end zone and the rout was on:

Marshall tried to climb back into the game behind quarterback Isaiah Green in the third quarter, as he ran for one score and threw for another but it wasn’t nearly enough. Knights freshman QB Dillon Gabriel threw for two touchdowns and ran for a third score, himself, in the same third stanza.

By the time the quarter was over, UCF had pulled away for good and eventually won the game 48-25.

Gabriel, finished with 260 yards passing and the three total TDS  and was named the Gasparilla Bowl Most Valuable Player.

In securing their third consecutive 10 or more wins season, the Knights do get some consolation after having won the American Conference Championship in each of the last two years. And, Heupel clearly has a foundation in place for UCF to have widespread success in the coming years.

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