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SMU Mustangs vs. UCF Knights Prediction and Preview

UCF Knights QB McKenzie Milton

UCF Knights QB McKenzie Milton

UCF looks to extend its nation-leading winning streak to 18 games this weekend when the Knights host SMU in a primetime American Athletic Conference crossover matchup. The Knights continue to roll and are once again looking like the team to beat in the AAC and in the Group of 5 hunt for a spot in the New Year's Six as October gets started, but SMU gave UCF one of its closest calls last year. Can the Mustangs do it again?

UCF enters its second conference game having won each of its first four games by an average of 32 points, including back-to-back home wins against FAU and Pittsburgh. SMU is riding a two-game winning streak with wins over Navy and Houston Baptist last week, but the road has not been kind to SMU this season. Sonny Dykes and his program have lost three road games by at least 23 points apiece, and UCF looks to be capable of continuing the road woes for SMU.

SMU at UCF

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPNU

Spread: UCF -24.0

Three Things to Watch

1. UCF will be unstoppable inside the red zone

If SMU is going to be any threat to UCF, the Mustangs must avoid giving up touchdowns inside the red zone and force UCF to leave points on the field. The problem is, the red zone is a lopsided advantage for the Knights in this matchup. UCF is scoring on 93.75 percent of its red zone trips, and 17 of its 19 scores have been touchdowns. Once the Knights get inside the 20-yard line, there has been no stopping them.

SMU does not look to be able to change that narrative this weekend. SMU has the nation’s 115th-ranked red zone defense, with opponents scoring 94.12 percent of the time they reach the red zone. In 17 red zone trips allowed, SMU has given up 12 touchdowns.

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2. Expect UCF to make big plays

Considering the way UCF’s offense rolls, this seems like an obvious thing to say, but it is even more apt for this game, because SMU has been hit hard by chunk yardage plays this season. SMU has given up 79 plays of at least 10 yards this season, tied for 111th in the nation. UCF has executed 77 plays of at least 10 yards this season, and 32 of those plays have gone for at least 20 yards.

SMU has broken open a few plays for big yardage this season, too. The Mustangs are one of six FBS schools with at least one play of 90 yards this season.

3. Will McKenzie Milton be padding his stats?

Expect another solid performance from the Knights' dual-threat quarterback, one of the top passers in the American Athletic Conference and the focus of a Heisman Trophy push by the UCF athletics department. Last year against SMU, Milton was picked off twice but passed for 412 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 44 yards and another touchdown to help UCF avoid the upset on the road. With this game coming at home in Orlando, UCF may not need quite the same heroics this time, but Milton should be able to end his day with another 300-plus-yard passing night with a few touchdowns to show for it.

Final Analysis

It will not take long for UCF to establish itself against SMU. Even though SMU will know that an up-tempo approach is coming from the Knights, knocking them off rhythm is not an easy thing to do. UCF has the talent to make some big plays early and jump out to a nice lead in the first quarter and never feel much of a need to look back. UCF’s defense has been known to allow teams to make some plays, however, and a resurgent SMU offense could put some points on the scoreboard, but the Mustangs will not have enough to keep up in any kind of track meet with UCF in Orlando. Chalk up another comfortable win for UCF before the Knights prepare for their first real road test of the season next week against Memphis.

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Prediction: UCF 56, SMU 24

— 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.

(Top photo courtesy of @UCF_Football)