The undefeated UCF Knights (10-0) face off against the 9-1 USF Bulls for the right to go to the AAC Championship game. The next iteration of this in-state rivalry begins Friday at 3:30 EST from the Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando. The game can be seen on ABC.
This may be the biggest game either of these teams has ever played. Sure, UCF winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2014 was big. USF beating a top-5 West Virginia team in 2007 was huge as well.
But this is against each other’s main rival, battling for geographical supremacy in the Sunshine State. Both of these teams are more talented than the Memphis team they’ll play next weekend, so this game very well could decide who gets the New Year’s Six bowl appearance. That’s on top of fighting for the right to play for conference title.
The Knights are still firing away offensively, taking care of Temple last weekend, 45-19. USF was clearly thinking about the upcoming matchup, because they had to wake up to stop a two-win Tulsa team.
UCF comes in paced by their do-everything quarterback, McKenzie Milton (26 touchdowns, five INTs, 3,301 total yards). RB Adrian Killins, still at an amazing 7.5 YPC, has had a couple down weeks, but WR Otis Anderson has picked up the slack there, with 58 yards on only five carries.
The Bulls have their own dual-threat QB in Quinton Flowers. Though his completion percentage (53.5%) isn’t a coach’s dream, he’s thrown 17 touchdowns and rushed for nine more. He has a chance to go over 2,500 yards passing and 1,000 rushing by season’s end.
Both these teams are healthy on all fronts, but UCF will come in as an 11-point favorites at home.
UCF has the chance to blow out anyone. But in this kind of a rivalry, expect the game to be close. There’s been a lot of blowouts in USF’s favor in the past, but these teams are rarely this evenly matched.
UCF should still be expected to win this game, whether by a field goal or a touchdown. But USF can play up to this kind of talent. Playing mid-level teams is what has, or what nearly, got them in trouble all year. But they had two more days than UCF to prepare for this game, and they needed that boost.
They will feed off playing in a high-energy setting. Flowers isn’t having the season Milton is, but is equally—if not more—talented. The offense coach Scott Frost has set up for the Knights is by far the better system. But anything Killins can do, Darius Tice (860 yards, 5.6 YPC) and D’Ernest Johnson (715 yards, seven touchdowns) can do too.
It comes down to which defense can find the stops when needed. At the beginning of the season, it seemed USF had a defense that had made huge strides. Though they haven’t fallen off much, they’ve fallen significantly in most statistical categories.
But in the last five games, they’ve only given up over 200 yards passing once. UCF will have to run the ball effectively, because that’s where the Bulls have struggled over that time. Expect both these teams to be able to chalk up numbers on the ground.
UCF just has a bit more balance offensively, and that will allow them to win. But not cover.