The game of the year in the entire Group of 5 landscape will be played Saturday night in Orlando when UCF hosts Cincinnati in a monster American Athletic Conference battle for first place in the East Division. ESPN’s College GameDay will broadcast live from the campus in the morning, and then UCF and Cincinnati will have all day to focus on a game that will carry the most weight in the Group of 5 race for a New Year's Six bowl game all season.
Betting against UCF has been unwise, but Cincinnati may be the best team the Knights have faced this season. With a revamped defense, the Bearcats will certainly have their hands full with McKenzie Milton and the Knights.
Cincinnati at UCF
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: UCF -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. First place in AAC East on the line, and much more
The stakes will be incredibly high this week, and not just for the top spot in the AAC East Division. With UCF apparently headed toward a second straight appearance in a New Year's Six bowl game, Cincinnati is looking to send the Knights on a detour and move into the driver’s seat with a win. Because only conference champions are considered for the Group of 5’s reserve spot in the New Year's Six, this is a must-win game for both UCF and Cincinnati with precious little time left in the regular season. If Temple loses earlier in the day, UCF could clinch the division with a win. If Cincinnati wins, things get a bit more complicated and would leave the door open for a handful of G5 contenders.
2. UCF's 22-game winning streak
UCF owns the nation’s longest FBS winning streak with a 22-game streak since the beginning of the 2017 season. That includes a 13-game winning streak at home, which also got started with the beginning of the 2017 season. UCF has also won the last two meetings against Cincinnati, with a 51-23 win on the road last season and a 24-3 win in Orlando in 2016. UCF leads the brief all-time series, 2-1, since 2015.
Cincinnati will not be intimidated playing on the road. Their only loss this season came on the road against an improving Temple team, a 24-17 setback, but Cincinnati has won road games at UCLA, Miami (Ohio), UConn and SMU. UCF will, however, be the toughest road test yet for Luke Fickell’s program.
3. Cincinnati defense ready for the challenge?
One major area of targeted improvement for Cincinnati this season has been the defense. Last year, the Bearcats ranked 95th in the nation in total defense. Coming into this week, Fickell’s program has a top-10 defense, one that is ranked sixth in the nation in average yards allowed per game. Cincinnati has really thrived against the run, holding five opponents this season to fewer than 100 yards and even holding Navy to just 124 rushing yards. Not only will Cincinnati have the aerial attack of McKenzie Milton to worry about, but UCF is also ranked fourth in the nation in rushing offense with 271.44 rushing yards per game.
As good as UCF is, the Knights have had some closer results than may have been predicted. Temple gave UCF a legitimate scare in Orlando two weeks ago, and a road trip to Memphis showed that UCF is not exactly invincible. Cincinnati has picked up some good wins since its loss at Temple, and the offense may be ready to give UCF another good stiff challenge with Desmond Ridder throwing the ball and Michael Warren running. But UCF can score in bunches and has shown that it is more than capable of turning it on at any moment. This one should be well worth the hype it receives this week, but UCF losing at home in this setting does not appear to be likely. Look for McKenzie Milton to lead UCF to a late fourth-quarter score to either push UCF ahead or essentially seal the win.
Prediction: UCF 38, Cincinnati 34
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.