NCAAF Friday night preview: #18 UCF vs. Cincinnati & more

Profile Picture: Ken Willinger

October 3rd, 2019

Central Florida
-3.5 (-105)
O 60 (-110)
+3.5 (-115)
U 60 (-110)
There won’t be any College Football Playoff talk for the Knights after their 35-34 loss at Pitt two weeks ago, but there should be a lot of AAC title talk as they travel to Nippert Stadium to face Luke Fickell's Bearcats. Even though the two teams have combined to play just a single conference game (UCF's dismantling of Connecticut last week), this has the feel of the East Division title tilt.

Looking at the rest of the division, there’s no one else capable of reaching the conference championship game. South Florida and UConn have been punching bags for all non-FCS schools they’ve played. East Carolina is 3-2 but has played one of the easiest schedules in the country. And while Temple has a nice win over Maryland, the Owls also fell at Buffalo. The winner of the UCF-Cincinnati game will play in the AAC title game. Mark it down.

What do we know about UCF?

The UCF offense is still dynamite. If you fancy the pass, check out the Gabriel-to-Gabriel connection. Dillon Gabriel, the Knights' freshman quarterback, has 14 touchdowns, just two interceptions and is averaging 11.2 yards per attempt. Gabriel Davis, a junior wide receiver, has caught eight of those touchdown passes and is averaging nearly 20 yards per catch.
More fond of the running game? I’m not sure there are many (any?) teams that field a foursome like this. Greg McCrae, Adrian Killins Jr., Bentavious Thompson and Otis Anderson each have more than 180 yards, two or more TDs and average more than 6.2 yards per carry. There aren’t enough carries to go around. Even the defense has been solid—with one key exception. The Knights have allowed their opponents to convert 5-of-6 fourth-down opportunities this season, including two in that crucial loss to Pitt. This is certainly a game that could come down to one or two key stops. UCF will need stops if it wants to leave Nippert with control of the East Division race.

How about the Bearcats?

Outside of a 42-0 drubbing at the hands of Ohio State, Cincinnati has handled its business to start the season 3-1. This comes on the heels of an 11-2 campaign last year, but one of those two losses was a 34-13 defeat to UCF. To get revenge the Bearcats need to control the ball with QB Desmond Ridder mostly handing the ball off to Michael Warren II and Tavion Thomas. They are two big backs capable of bludgeoning a more speed-oriented, finesse defense with body blows.

The greater challenge for Cincinnati will be on defense. Ethan Tucky and Michael Pitts are fast, undersized defensive ends capable of causing a lot of havoc in opposing backfields, but how will they hold up in the run game? And does Cincinnati have enough playmakers in the back? Safety Ja’von Hicks has an interception and forced fumble, and he might need to cause another turnover in this game to keep his side in it.

This game will be very competitive and fun for three quarters before the Knights pull away.

Pick: Central Florida -3.5

New Mexico at San Jose State (-6.5), 10 p.m. ET, CBSSN

San Jose State got a huge road win at Arkansas two weeks ago, then covered at Air Force last week. The program is on a nice, upward trajectory. Now they get to come home and face an inferior opponent. And wouldn’t you know—it’s another option team! The Spartans defense will be even better prepared after experiencing the Air Force option last week. Who would have thought I’d be laying a touchdown with San Jose State in a non-FCS game this year?

Pick: San Jose State (-6.5)

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