In just 23 days, the UCF Knights will begin their quest for American Athletic Conference title number three. The “Bouncehouse” will be bouncing, and the boys should have an easy night with FIU coming to town…but can the Knights make easy work of a tough early season schedule?
That is the million dollar question.
Not only does UCF’s schedule include a some tough in-conference road games against Cincinnati and Temple, they also travel to Stanford and South Carolina in the first four weeks of the season.
Obviously UCF is no stranger to tough early season opponents, but there has to be a concern over what these games can mean for the future of the season. Do two tough losses and a 2-2 start negatively impact the team going forward? I don’t know if it’ll be an issue.
The South Carolina team that UCF will face this season at Williams-Brice Stadium is nothing like the top-10 team they faced two years ago here in Orlando. That team had NFL talent all over the defense, and a few at skill positions. Even with Connor Shaw coming out of the game early, that Gamecocks squad was a force….one that UCF almost knocked off, but a force none-the-less.
This 2015 Gamecocks, on the other hand, have a lot to prove.
It’s possible that they could have already proved it before they welcome the Knights to town on September 26th as they face both Georgia and Kentucky in the weeks leading up to this game. Then again, the Knights may benefit from the Gamecocks’ inexperience alone.
The Gamecocks are trotting out a new quarterback, a new number one running back and a has a defense with a lot to prove. Their defense was atrocious in 2015 and it’s biggest weakness…mobile quarterbacks.
Justin Holman falls right in to the “a lot to prove” category as well after his up and down first year as the Knights’ leading man… but he has the ability to get out and move if he needs to. Oh, and he has a cannon that George O’Leary told us was much more under control so far this Summer.
Beyond what O’Leary has shared about Holman’s growth on the field, his growth as a man was on display at Media Day last week.
He was calm, cool and collected with dozens of microphones and brightly lit cameras in his face as he was the obvious focal point of the player interviews for the media. This brought back a fond memory of my first UCF Media Day…except that day it was a calm, cool and collected Blake Bortles standing there.
He turned out pretty well.
If Holman is in fact more comfortable inside the pocket and out and O’Leary’s “we guy” wide receivers are making plays, I don’t see how it isn’t possible for UCF to get a big win in Columbia, South Carolina.
If UCF can win in Columbia then even if the they don’t pull off the Stanford upset out west, a 3-1 start is far better than a 2-2 start. Now the question remains, how does this impact the AAC schedule?
UCF’s conference schedule isn’t outlandishly difficult as they should be able to take care of the majority of their opponents. However, games against ECU, Houston, Cincinnati and Temple maks it anything but a cakewalk.
Let me break these down for you:
– ECU is retooling their offense, so I don’t think they’re going to be an issue. Especially because I can promise that BrightHouse Network Stadium will be jumping that day!
– Temple is being touted as basically an equal of UCF, but I feel like the Temple team I saw get bounced out of Orlando 34-14 last year still has a long way to go…so I’ll mark that down as a win too.
– Houston, well UCF took them out with a shaky offense and some major injuries at their house a year ago…I’ll give the Knights the edge with the home field advantage and a hopefully improved Justin Holman. Give the Knights another W.
That leaves one game that could make or break UCF’s rise back to the top of the AAC.
Cincinnati and UCF finished tied (along with Memphis) for the AAC crown in 2014…but the two teams never played. That won’t be the case this year as the Knights visit the Bearcats on Halloween.
This game could easily be the one to decide the East.
Cincinnati returns senior quarterback Gunner Kiel, who had one heck of a 2014 season. Kiel threw for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago in Cincinnati’s co-championship season. This is going to be a major test for the UCF defense. The good news? By that time we should know if the new look defensive unit has filled the giant shoes left for them.
I’m not going to pick this game…because I don’t want to jinx it…
Talking season will soon be over and these game will all have to be played…but I don’t see any reason why the Knights can’t find themselves as the kings of the AAC once again in 2015.
Any and all feedback welcomed! Get me on Twitter (@Ditti33) or via e-mail at ditti@740TheGame.com!