The ESPN College GameDay crew is headed to Orlando this week, and we have to say they have selected a real dandy for this week’s featured game. The 9-1 Cincinnati Bearcats, currently ranked #24 in the land, hit the road to take on the 9-0 UCF Knights, the #11 team in the country which just so happens to be riding a 22-game winning streak.
UCF sits atop the AAC-East division with a perfect conference record of 6-0, while Cincinnati is currently tied for second place with Temple with a conference mark of 5-1. The stakes are incredibly high for both sides, and it’s good to see a pair of solid smaller programs grab the attention of the schedule makers.
The Knights have been dying to be in the conversation with the nation’s top programs, but strength of schedule knocks keep them in the second tier as far as the pollsters go. That said, there are plenty of other programs who would gladly take a #11 ranking and feel pretty good about things.
As for the Bearcats, they’re primed to show the nation that there’s more than one story worth following in the American Athletic Conference. This is a solid matchup of a pair of strong division rivals, both of whom have plenty at stake underneath the primetime lights.
Let’s take a look at this game in full detail, starting with the game line.
Cincinnati @ UCF, 8:00 PM EST, ABC
- Cincinnati +7 (-103)
- UCF -7 (-117)
- Cincinnati +250
- UCF -300
- Over 5 (-115)
- Under 5 (-105)
Cincinnati vs. UCF pick:
The visiting Bearcats have just a single blemish on their 2018 resume, a 24-17 loss to division rival Temple. That loss came after the team started off 6-0, and Cincinnati has ripped off another six victories since that loss, including last week’s 35-23 victory over USF.
For UCF, perfection remains the name of the game. Regardless of strength of schedule knocks, a 22-game winning streak is nothing to sneeze at. The team opened up the season with a dominating 56-17 victory over UConn, and they just haven’t looked back. The team’s lone big test came on the road at Memphis, a game they were fortunate to escape with a 31-30 win.
Cincinnati averages 35 points per game while giving up just 14.9. The offense leans heavily on the run, while the defense is pretty stout on both fronts. In terms of pressure, the Bearcats have gotten to the quarterback 24 times this year. The unit has also forced 12 turnovers and scored one defensive touchdown on the season.
Freshman Desmond Ridder has had the keys to the offense, and he’s getting it done through the air and on the ground. Ridder has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 1,897 yards, 15 TDs, and five picks. He has also added on 486 rushing yards and another five scores on the ground.
Sophomore Michael Warren II leads the way out of the backfield. Through 10 games, he has carried the ball 206 times for 1,082 yards and 17 TDs. He has also hauled in 21 passes for another 195 yards and a score. Senior Khalil Lewis is the top option in the passing attack with 41 receptions for 490 yards and six scores on the season.
Looking ahead, Cincinnati closes out the regular season on Friday, November 23 at home versus East Carolina. The team is still in the hunt for a division crown, but that loss to Temple could be costly depending on how everything else shakes out. Either way, it has been a solid season for the Bearcats, but they are obviously striving for much more.
On the UCF side, the team is averaging 44.2 points per contest while allowing 21.2. The Knights have a very balanced offense that can do damage in both facets, while the defense has shown more weakness against the run. On the pressure front, the defense has compiled 17 sacks, forced 21 turnovers, and scored one defensive touchdown.
Junior signal caller McKenzie Milton is having an exceptional season, completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,309 yards, 21 scores, and five picks. McKenzie has also added on 285 yards and eight scores on the ground. Sophomore Greg McRae and junior Adrian Killins Jr. lead the way in the backfield, while sophomore Gabriel Davis leads a talented group of pass catchers.
UCF will also close out their regular season on Friday, November 23 when they take on in-state rival USF, a team that currently has a mark of 7-3. The Knights are a team on a mission for another undefeated season, and they are hoping against hope to be included in the College Football Playoff conversation. That’s not going to happen, but they are at least inspiring chatter about expanding the postseason field.
These two schools have met in each of the past three seasons. UCF has a 2-1 record both straight up and against the spread over that span, while the Under has come out twice. Last year, UCF was a 15-point road favorite in a game with a projected total of 52.5 points. They walked off of the field with a 51-23 victory.
This year, the spread is much tighter at 7 points, but UCF remains favored, albeit at home this time around. A projected total of 60.5 points indicates the potential for a high-scoring affair, and you can be sure both programs will want to strut their stuff on the featured primetime game of the week.
The extra attention this game is receiving only intensifies the pressure for UCF. While that increases the risk of a letdown for the club, it’s tough to imagine a team that’s riding a massive winning streak not recognizing what’s at stake here and playing accordingly.
This looks to be a real close one, but the home field edge and the fact that the game serves as a slight crowning achievement for UCF will make them tough to beat. That said, Cincinnati has the chops to make a game of it well into the fourth quarter.
We’ll take Cincinnati plus the touchdown.