You have to give Scott Frost credit. Despite technically engaging in a “bolt-for-Benjamins” by leaving UCF for the Power-5, Frost isn’t just leaving for his pocketbook but going home to Nebraska. What’s more, he decided to juggle both jobs and remain on the sidelines for the Peach Bowl.
The Auburn Tigers have been paid the ultimate compliment by Vegas this week, riding SEC-leaning action to a double-digit (-10) in the point spread against a program which hasn’t lost a game in 2017. The Tigers, of course, have lost 3 times. American Athletic Conference athletes already have a chip on their shoulder.
American sports junkies deciding en masse that even a 3-loss SEC team is invulnerable to an unbeaten AAC school? That has to smart.
Who: Auburn Tigers vs Central Florida Knights
When: Monday, January 1st 2018, 12:30 PM
Where: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Lines: AUB (-10) vs UCF (+10) / O/U Total: (67)
It helps to remember who exactly Auburn lost to – LSU, Clemson, and Georgia. But despite beating Alabama, the Tigers did falter in wins against mid-tier teams and nearly laid an all-time egg against Mercer. Last week’s loss in the conference title clash involved a totally flat offense and 0 points after the 1st quarter.
Was Jarrett Stidham at fault? Maybe not. He protected the ball (save one lost fumble) and threw a TD pass, but was ineffective on downfield throws. The running game couldn’t get out of its own way, and Georgia’s defensive line exposed weaknesses in Auburn’s blocking.
The Tigers haven’t given up 30+ points all season. But there could be a shock in store against Central Florida. SEC defenses are not quite as nimble now compared to the great units of early-decade national champions. Auburn sacked Georgia’s Jake Fromm twice but only amassed 1 hurry otherwise. Fromm mostly handed-off and didn’t run a lot of 3 and 4-wide sets, but when he did he was effective against the Tigers, who couldn’t make good use of blitzes or drop-coverage often enough.
Meanwhile, nobody in the AAC could do anything to control the UCF offense in 2017. The Knights scored 100+ points in 8 quarters against Memphis, put up 7 touchdowns on P5-level athletes at South Florida, and racked up almost 6500 yards of total offense.
McKenzie Milton is the arm, a deadly-accurate sophomore with quick feet on the scramble. Auburn hasn’t had to defend a QB like Milton in the SEC because there are very few 5’11” 175-pound players taking snaps there. But Frost makes up for any deficiency in throwing lanes with movement and flexibility in the playbook. Tre’Quan Smith is Milton’s favorite target on the outside, where the Knights have speed to burn. 10 players have caught touchdown passes, and the ground game is a steady churn.
All of the flash and talent won’t help if UCF’s defense can’t hold up inside against the Wing-T. The Knights held Navy – a smaller, slower but quicker-operating offense – to 21 points in mid-autumn. Big Ten opponent Maryland was stuffed on their own field by the Central Florida defense, and Memphis only scored 13 points on their first try.
If there’s cause for concern, it’s South Florida’s 42 points-scored in the UCF-USF rivalry game in November. The Knights allowed 500+ passing yards to Quentin Flowers and 200+ receiving yards to Tyre McCants. But if UCF can lose a track meet, that’s not a deal-breaker because the Peach Bowl is less likely to go that way.
Auburn will want to establish Kerryon Johnson and other RBs early. Central Florida can deal with that, and might race out to a lead before Auburn knows what’s happening.
We’re liking UCF at near 3-to-1 odds. Is there a chance Auburn’s OL will be too much for the Knights to handle? Sure. But no more than the chances of this bowl game being a watershed moment for UCF and the AAC…and a payoff for Frost’s bold move to stick around.