A 13-0 perfect season and a claimed National Championship has the college football world taking aim at the UCF Knights for the upcoming 2018 season. Regardless of the opinions of the biased SEC writers and ACC maniacs, Orlando’s hometown team looks to repeat what they did last season. If the Knights were somehow go undefeated again, the current College Football Playoff Committee would have a real hard time finding excuses to leave UCF out.
Going perfect in back-to-back seasons will be a challenge for the Knights as they inherit a new head coach in Josh Heupel and with it a new system. UCF lost some key players but for the most part retained their starters and their style of play. Starting quarterback McKenzie Milton returns as a Heisman candidate and is expected to be even better than last season.
The following is every UCF opponent on the 2018 ranked from the toughest matchup (#1) to the easiest (#12). Essentially, view them as power rankings on who has the best chance to upset back-to-back perfection for the Knights.
#1; at Memphis
Saturday, October 13, TBA
Last Season: 10-3 (7-1 at home)
All-Time Series: UCF leads 11-1, 11-game win streak for UCF
2017 Final AP Rank: 19
This game will be good. An early October matchup right in the middle of the season just as teams are beginning to find their legs. College football fans remember how intense both games were last season, especially the AAC championship game that ended in double overtime and over 100 points scored.
Will this game surpass the hype of last season’s clashes? Probably not. Both games were at home for UCF last season against this Memphis team…how will they fare on the road?
To analyze this one a bit, despite losing their starting quarterback, Memphis still has a good core intact and is still favored to win the AAC West. The Tigers have been the most consistent team in the AAC and have no reason not to continue that trend. They just can’t seem to come in clutch at the right moments to propel them to a championship. Speaking of not coming in clutch, the Memphis Tigers haven’t defeated UCF since 1990.
Memphis only lost two games last season, and both were to UCF. Most predictions show a rematch of UCF vs. Memphis in the AAC Championship once again. History is in favor of the Knights in this one, but will this mid-season matchup be a loss for UCF? It’s a toss-up.
#2; at UNC
Saturday, September 15, Noon
Last Season: 3-9 (1-6 at home)
All-Time Series: No previous matchups
This is the one to possibly be afraid of. UNC is the biggest power 5 opponent to play UCF since Michigan. The Tar Heels are a team that is coming off a down year but has potential to wreck a second consecutive perfect season for the Knights.
A disappointing season for the Tar Heels may have been an outlier as UNC went 3-9. The last time they had a season like that was back in 2006 which proves how rare a flop of a season like that is for a power 5 program.
Last season UNC rotated between quarterbacks, and we all know when you have multiple quarterbacks playing it really means that team has no quarterbacks. The Achilles heel of the Tar Heels was the massive amount of injuries they had to deal with. Even with a healthy team and at home, experts think that UNC only has a 33 percent chance to top the Knights. Even with all of that in favor of the Knights, something just doesn’t feel comfortable about this game.
#3; at USF
Friday, November 23, TBA
Last Season: (10-2) (5-1 at home)
All-Time Series: USF leads 6-3, 1-game win streak for UCF
2017 Final AP Ranking: 20
A tale of two different rosters comes into play in the 2018 War on I-4 matchup. UCF only lost a handful of starters from last year’s perfect season squad while USF has lost virtually everyone, including their starting QB from 2017 Quinton Flowers.
Flowers gave the Knights the most trouble in last season’s game, throwing for 503 yards and four touchdowns while he ran for 102 yards and took one to the house himself. Luckily for the Knights he is gone.
Besides Flowers, the Knights held USF running backs to just 48 yards. Besides not being able to contain the Bull’s starting QB, UCF locked down their opponent. Not only did USF lose their star, but they lost their defensive front as well as many pieces on offense.
Even though they have lost a lot of pieces, word on the street is that the new USF players are faster and more athletic than last season’s team. We saw speed used as an advantage against the Knight’s secondary last season, so it will be interesting to see how that translates. With practically a whole new team, the question of how quickly USF can bond, they have time as this game takes place late in the season on Black Friday.
Being on the road will be a tough test for the Knights as they have only won in Tampa once which was in 2014. That was the year that UCF won their other major bowl game, the Fiesta Bowl.
#4; vs. FAU
Friday, September 21, 7 p.m.
Last Season: 11-3 (4-2 on road)
All-Time Series: UCF leads 1-0, 33-29 UCF at home in 2003
2017 Final AP Ranking: 25
This will be the most watched game early on in the 2018 college football season. The surging Owls of FAU come to town most likely bringing some of their “loyal” fans with them. Since joining the FBS in 2004, FAU has only posted three winning season. The Owls are coming off their best season ever which saw them ride “The Lane Train” all the way to the C-USA title. But let’s think for a minute…besides Lane Kiffin, who else was talked about on that FAU team? Nobody.
FAU now has some names to talk about, including Jovon Durante, a transfer from WVU to go along with the fourth best recruiting class in the C-USA. After starting 1-3 last season, FAU ripped off 10 straight victories to make a lot of noise for group of 5 teams.
With all due respect, FAU just doesn’t seem to be there yet. Their late success last season had Owl fans comparing the Knights to FAU and saying they should be considered as well. Hold on there basic Boca chicks…the AAC actually had decent opponents who were ranked and posed liable threats to big power 5 schools. The next best team in the C-USA was 9-5
Riding the rails on “The Lane Train” could lead FAU to success down the line, but in prime time in the bounce house on national television, the Knights will show FAU “whooo” is superior.
#5; vs. Pittsburgh
Saturday, September 29, TBA
Last Season: 5-7 (1-4 on road)
All-Time Series: Pitt leads 1-0, 52-7 Pitt on the road in 2006
The Pitt Panthers will be a big “power 6” matchup as the ACC will face off with the AAC. This is one of two (or maybe three) very important out of conference games for the Knights if they want to keep the pressure applied to propel them into the power 5 discussion.
Since entering the ACC, the best record for the Panthers had been 8-5 in back to back seasons before falling off the table last season with a 5-7 mark. That same 5-7 team somehow found a way to dismantle the perfect Miami Hurricanes at the time. Seven of eleven starting defenders will return for Pitt, but the flip side of the ball sees an offense with many questions to be answered.
A very streaky Pitt team who has upset power could provide a punch to the Knights. If the UCF offense is as efficient as it was last season, there is no way Pitt’s offense could keep pace with that of the black and gold.
#6; vs. Temple
Thursday, November 1, 7:30 p.m.
Last Season: 7-6 (3-3 at home)
All-Time Series: UCF leads 3-2, 1-game win streak for UCF
Temple got off to a slow start last season, losing five of their first eight games. UCF gets Temple as game number nine in their schedule. After struggling the first eight games, the Owls won four of five down the stretch. It will be interesting to see if Temple can give UCF a run for their money in an AAC East that looks a bit weaker than normal.
Even with people saying that Temple could overthrow UCF this season are missing the fact that Temple lost some key pass defenders in the secondary. The Knights have a Heisman candidate in McKenzie Milton who has only gotten better since last season. Chalk this one up as a win.
#7; vs. Navy
Saturday, November 10, TBA
Last Season: 7-6 (2-4 on road)
All-Time Series: UCF leads 1-0, 31-21 UCF on the road in 2017
Navy was one of UCF’s tougher matchups on the road last season. Thankfully for the Knights they play Navy in Orlando this year. The Midshipmen love to play through the triple option, which involves a running quarterback, something the Knights had trouble defending last year not only against Navy but USF as well.
This team is competitive regardless of who is on it as Navy has been above the .500 mark in 14 of their last 15 seasons. They could put up a fight in the AAC West Division and give Houston a run for their money. They were capable of a better season last year, but really haven’t gotten better since. As for their game against UCF this season, still expect a victory for the black and gold in Spectrum Stadium.
#8; vs. Cincinnati
Saturday, November 17, TBA
Last Season: 4-8 (2-4 on road)
All-Time Series: UCF leads 2-1, 2 game-win streak for UCF
Cincinnati has not put out a quality product since they shared the AAC championship with UCF in 2014. The Bearcats are coming off of back-to-back 4-8 seasons with little to no upside. The only UCF loss to Cincinnati was when the Knights failed to win a game during the 2015 season.
A positive for the Bearcats moving forward is that they just recruited what is expected to be one of their best classes ever. This class is ranked first in the AAC and 47th nationally. Four star tight end Leonard Taylor who stands at nearly six and a half feet headlines the recruiting class.
With this game in the bounce house late in the season, Cincinnati would have to bring their best to beat the Knights at home. However, if the young core of the Bearcats can gel fast enough, this could be a dangerous matchup late in the season for UCF.
#9; at UCONN
Thursday, August 30, 7 p.m.
Last Season: 3-9 (2-4 at home)
All-Time Series: UCF leads 3-2, 2-game win streak for UCF
Ah…the “Civil COnFLict.” A rivalry made up entirely by the UCONN athletic offices to try and spark something for a Huskies team that has been nothing but lackluster for seasons. Their last winning season came in 2010 when they went 8-5 and got wrecked by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl 48-20. Since the creations of the divisions in the AAC, UCONN hasn’t finished higher than third place in the AAC East.
This game could get sloppy for the Knights running under the new system of a new coaching staff, but luckily UCF gets an easy opponent. The lone fact that this is game number one under head coach Josh Heupel is the only threat to a loss for the black and gold.
The Huskies must go through another rebuild after two consecutive 3-9 season, and there is almost no reason to believe this one will dethrone the Knights to begin this season.
#10; at East Carolina
Saturday, October 20, TBA
Last Season: 3-9 (2-5 at home)
All-Time Series: ECU leads 10-6, 2-game win streak for UCF
Last season saw ECU get embarrassed in the bounce house as Orlando’s hometown team went on to win 63-21. There is no reason to believe that can’t happen again as ESPN’s FPI says that ECU only has a 13.3 percent chance to beat UCF even though it will be played on the Pirate’s home field. With a record of 6-18 in the last two seasons, ECU needs some kind of miraculous turnaround to beat the Knights this time around.
#11; vs. SMU
Saturday, October 6, TBA
Last Season: 7-6 (1-4 on road)
All-Time Series: UCF leads 7-1, 4-game win streak for UCF
The Knights traveled to SMU last season and it was a tightly contested game throughout. It was just a four point game heading into the fourth quarter, where UCF held SMU to zero points and went on to win 31-24. SMU was good at home with only two losses last season but looked abysmal on the road.
SMU gets a new head coach in Sonny Dykes this year, and we know how new coaches can work out in the world of college football, just ask Scott Frost.
Between the sidelines is where the game is won and lost though, as SMU lost many games because of their defense, which doesn’t look like it has gotten any better. Pair that with the fast paced offense ran by McKenzie Milton, things don’t look too swell for the Mustangs in this season’s contest.
#12; vs. South Carolina State
Saturday, September 8, 6 p.m.
Last Season: 3-7
Last Matchup: 38-0, UCF at home, 2016
This is an FCS team. A loss here would unravel any momentum that UCF or any group of 5 team had built from last season to be equally represented in the College Football Playoff. This game is going to be like playing Madden on the easiest difficulty for UCF. Win or cancel the season for the Knights.