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One of the most polarizing teams in college football the last two years has been the UCF Knights. After winning 25 games in a row and playing in two New Year’s Six bowl games, people had strong opinions about the Knights. They enter 2019 looking to continue their regular season winning streak, and repeat as AAC Champions for a third consecutive year. Will they do it? There are many challenges awaiting as they head into this season.
UCF without a star
One of the biggest reasons for UCF’s success was their quarterback play. McKenzie Milton became one of the best quarterbacks in college football the last two years, but we won’t see him this season.
Milton’s road to recovery has been well documented, and we hope to see him on the football field next year. For now, the Knights must find other options. Notre Dame graduate transfer Brandon Wimbush came to UCF for one final chance as a starter. He inherits a supremely talented roster, and doesn’t need to play the hero in this offense.
Guys like Greg McCrae, Adrian Killins, Gabriel Davis and many more return to one of the best offenses in the country. Wimbush just needs to be a distributor, even if he can do more. He’s capable of making big time throws, but he won’t need to do that as frequently. Part of what made Milton so great for UCF was his ability to distribute the ball, and Wimbush can do the same. If he can keep the offense playing at a high level, UCF will be elite again. However, the road back to an NY6 bowl game features more difficult obstacles to overcome.
UCF: AAC Threepeat?
To be honest, UCF doesn’t have the schedule to make the College Football Playoff. They didn’t last year, and they didn’t the year before. That remains the reason they didn’t sniff the playoff. Not any conspiracy theories. Not Power 5 bias. Just not enough elite wins. When your best nonconference win is against Pitt, you’re not making the postseason. The problem is that UCF wouldn’t make it even if they played four elite Power 5 schools. Even just scheduling those teams isn’t easy, but the Knights have enough to worry about on their current schedule.
Memphis took UCF to the wire the last two years, and many expect both to play again in the conference championship for a third consecutive year. Both divisions are strong this year, making for uncertainty. Cincinnati emerged last year in the East, USF will be much improved, and Temple’s always tough. In the West, the Knights won’t face Memphis, but they’ll get two teams with great offenses. They face an elite Houston offense late in the season as well as a dark horse in Tulane. That is once they play a tougher nonconference slate.
Pitt returns to the schedule, but UCF is on the road. They do get a Power 5 team at home, but it’s Stanford. The Cardinal will give the Knights defense more than they can handle just three games into the season. That’s more than enough to ignore the expectations and focus on the games at hand.
Another Undefeated Season?
We didn’t think that UCF would finish last year undefeated, but it’s tough to set that expectation. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if they did it again, but it’s not easy. UCF may be just as talented this year, but their conference improved as well. Both divisions are crowded, and it’s going to be a battle to the top. We saw signs of stumbling last year even during their run, and who knows how hungry this team is after the loss to LSU.
Whether they win every game again or miss the conference championship game, this program is here to stay. UCF’s given fans plenty to cheer about, and has put their name in nearly every college football fan’s mouth. If they can make another run, it will be fun to watch. Wimbush plays a bigger role in their success than many realize, but a tougher schedule does as well. Regardless of what happens, UCF will charge on and keep competing. Maybe someday they’ll get a shot at the playoff. For now, they’re doing pretty well where they are, and they’ve got a target on their backs.