If there are two teams in college football who are really bouncing off the walls right now, it’d be this Friday night prime-time showdown between UCF and FAU. These guys can’t wait to get back out on the field again and it should be a good old-fashioned Sunshine State Shootout.
The Knights have a 15-game winning streak going but have been on the shelf for the last 13 days due to last week’s cancellation of their game vs. North Carolina due to Hurricane Florence. Prior to that they were un-challenged in blowout wins over UConn and FCS opponent South Carolina State, outscoring them by a combined score of 94-17.
The Owls, meanwhile, suffered a crushing 63-14 loss on the road at Oklahoma. But they rebounded from that trap to beat Air Force (33-27) and FCS foe Bethune-Cookman (49-28) in successive weeks. Nothing would give Lane Kiffin’s program a brighter spotlight than knocking off the unbeaten Knights on their home field on a night when the whole college football world is watching.
FAU at UCF
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: UCF -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The streak
Unless you’ve lived under a rock you know that UCF has the nation’s longest winning streak at 15 games. During that streak the Knights have been favored by two scores or less six times and underdogs twice. They have won every one of those games and covered the spread in five of them, including last January’s Sugar Bowl where they got past Auburn 34-27. Despite the new coaching staff, everything else still looks very familiar. The offense is perfectly balanced, throwing for 606 yards and six TDs and running for 612 yards and seven TDs through two games. With 10 starters back, Florida Atlantic's defense was expected to be improved, but that has not been the case so far. Through three games, the Owls are giving up 39 points and more than 450 yards per game.
2. Who will have the bigger offensive night?
Ridiculous stats warning ahead.
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton is capable of video game-type numbers and is looking for a breakout performance to put him on the Heisman map. Meanwhile FAU running back Devin Singletary has “Heisman in Paradise” billboards around south Florida and tallied a school-record five touchdowns in the first half in last week’s win over Bethune-Cookman. A week before that in their win vs. Air Force, the Falcons were keying heavily on stopping Singletary. But quicker than you could say “Chris Robison” the FAU QB broke a school record by throwing for 471 yards and three TDs in a very efficient 33-for-40 day. So you can pick your poison with both teams and their skill players.
3. Which defense will stand up?
To be honest, these two have some ugly warts on the defensive side of the ball. Despite last year’s “co-national championship” the Knights had the 94th-ranked defense in the entire FBS, giving 430 yards per game. This will be their biggest test, no doubt. The Owls got run roughshod by Oklahoma in their opener and followed that up by giving up four touchdowns to Air Force and then again to Bethune-Cookman the last two weeks. Despite having an all-world talent like linebacker Aziz Al-Shaair (program leader with 188 solo tackles) and nine other starters back (six of which are seniors), FAU is just 101st in total defense, allowing 451.7 yards per game. If the Owls don’t get some key stops and slow down Milton and his dual-threat tools, they could be in line for a nightmare.
You could argue this is one of the more pivotal games in deciding the Group of 5 representative to the New Year’s Six bowl game. If this one goes into hyper-mode with these two offenses you have to give the edge to the experience of McKenzie Milton and Co. on the UCF side, especially with the varied weapons he’s got on the outside, led by Gabriel Davis, Dredrick Nelson and Tre Nixon.
In the opener against UConn, the Knights' offense had scoring drives of 61, 81, 76, 74, 65, 73, 90 and 90 yards. This team does not care where they get the ball, they’re going to score. The Owls counter with plenty of offensive fire power themselves but the defense has given up 451 yards and 39 points per game. If the Knights take care of the ball and keep their red zone offense zipping -- eight of 11 trips being touchdowns -- they should be able to outscore the Owls.
Prediction: UCF 56, Florida Atlantic 38
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.