Lo and behold, college football gamblers have faith in UCF again. It only took a few weeks.
You can’t blame speculators for getting nervous after 2 early-season losses. With McKenzie Milton sidelined for at least the remainder of 2019, the UCF offense is still competent. But it wasn’t clutch or error-free in dropped outcomes to Pitt and Cincinnati, and coaches have chosen to ride with Dillon Gabriel over Brandon Wimbush and last season’s hero Darnell Mack Jr. at QB…an unorthodox decision that is only now starting to pay real dividends.
7-2 isn’t bad, though, even if it’s a far cry from the epic winning streak which captivated a nation in 2016-18. Central Florida’s record in 2019 is more impressive considering how strong the American Athletic Conference is getting. This week’s Top 25 poll includes 4 AAC programs – not even including the Knights. If Josh Heupel’s team keeps winning it’s only a matter of time before UCF is back in the Top 25 too.
Tulsa is not among the ranked teams in the conference, and only stands at 2-7. That record should come with an asterisk however – the Golden Hurricane has quietly faced 1 of the more daunting schedules of the FBS.
OK State and Michigan State beat the mid-major Oklahoma school in competitive OOC contests in late summer, and Tulsa’s pair of wins over the Mountain West are starting to look pretty decent considering the strength of Wyoming and San Jose State (yes, San Jose State isn’t bad at all in 2019) and the MWC in general.
Over the past 5 games Tulsa has had to face a gauntlet, arguably the cream of the AAC, losing to SMU, Memphis, Cincinnati, Navy, and Tulane. 1 of the losses was in OT and 1 was a single-point result. So it’s technically a losing streak, but wow – what a difficult slate of opponents.
It’s not getting any easier – the UCF Knights arrive for a Friday night kickoff as a big favorite in Week 11.
Who: Central Florida Knights at Tulsa Golden Hurricane
When: Friday, November 8th, 7 PM EST
Where: Skelly Field, Tulsa, OK
Lines: UCF (-17) at Tulsa (+17) / O/U Total: (71)
Rapid line-movement toward UCF (which opened as a 2-TD favorite) on the point spread indicates that would-be underdog bettors are too concerned with Tulsa’s psychological state as a program in midst of a long losing streak to go all-in on wagers.
There’s something to be said for that. The 42-41 loss to Memphis was a heartbreaker, lost on a potentially-easy FG attempt as time ran down in the 4th quarter:
Memphis escaped an upset Saturday night when Tulsa kicker Jacob Rainey missed a 29-yard field goal, pulling it left, leaving the Tigers with a 42-41 win. The Tigers (7-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) took the 42-41 lead with 4:26 remaining when Kenneth Gainwell scored from 1 yard out. The Gainwell score – his third of the night – capped a 3-play, 60-yard drive, the bulk of it on a 59-yard pass from Brady White to Damonte Coxie on the play before Gainwell’s score. After the go-ahead score, a gassed and struggling defense went back on the field and did what they did most of the day — allow the Golden Hurricane to drive down the field. A Tulsa defense averaging 2.7 yards per rush this season pounded the ball to the 12-yard line.
After running the clock down to two seconds remaining, Tulsa called timeout for Rainey’s kick. The redshirt freshman, who had a tough night, pulled the kicked outside the left upright, leaving the Tigers celebrating and the Golden Hurricane players and coaches hanging their heads. Tulsa ran the ball 61 times on their way to finding a two-headed monster of their own in Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II. Brooks rushed for 156 yards and one touchdown while Taylor II added 85 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. The Tigers defense struggled against Tulsa’s fast-paced offense to the tune of 41 points and 584 yards.
A sorrowful and spent Tulsa squad went on to lose to Tulane by 12 points to extend the losing streak. But you can’t count the Golden Hurricane offense as anything but dangerous, especially at home.
Not that I’d recommend the hosts on the moneyline vs UCF. The Knights may have struggled in (some) OOC contests early in the year, but Central Florida is now a cool 5-0 in league play. Gabriel is finding Tre Nixon along with the QB’s namesake Gabriel Davis with downfield passes more often thanks to a solidified OL that has the ground game humming.
I’m not sure if the UCF defense is as consistently crushing as it was last season, however. East Carolina had an extremely-healthy offensive day in a 41-28 October loss to the Knights in Orlando. Central Florida whipped Temple on the LOS the following week, but played lousy run defense for much of a shoot-out win over Houston last weekend.
Odds-makers and gamblers are correct in setting a high O/U but incorrect in assuming UCF’s less-dominant defense won’t help Tulsa cover the spread. The hosts can score enough points to hang around on Friday.
Take the Golden Hurricane and (+17).