The Knights will take on North Carolina, Pitt and FAU in non-conference play in Josh Heupel's first season as head coach
UCF wants you to buy into the national championship hype, but the 2018 season is a clean slate for everyone involved. And UCF has a new head coach calling the shots as well as some key position players to replace from last season’s undefeated run.
Josh Heupel is the new head coach in town, and he inherits a UCF program still built to compete for the American Athletic Conference (AAC) championship. UCF will increase the level of difficulty with the non-conference schedule this season with a pair of ACC opponents mixed in as well as a fun little in-state showdown against another Group of 5 team to keep a close eye on for a variety of reasons.
Does UCF have what it takes to run through the gauntlet without taking a hit in 2018? It would appear so, but there will be some challenges to come their way.
UCF Knights 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 9
Week 1 – Aug. 30 at UConn (Storrs, Conn.)
The season kicks off on the road in conference play against “rival” UConn on a Thursday night. The Knights had little problem with the Huskies last season at home and jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter and closed the game out on a 21-0 run before a late UConn score. UCF should be able to get the season started on the right foot as UConn continues to rebuild.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 vs. South Carolina State (Orlando, Fla.)
UCF opens up the home schedule in Week 2 with an easy one against South Carolina State. The Knights could benefit from a matchup with an FCS opponent in the home opener with what comes in the next three weeks.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 at North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
UCF gets a crack at a power conference opponent in Week 3 on the road against the Tar Heels. UNC is coming off a miserable season, but may be looking forward to its home opener after two straight games on the road. If UNC is still struggling to get things moving in the right direction, UCF could score a nice win to go 3-0.
Week 4 – Sept. 21 vs. FAU (Orlando, Fla.)
A short week to prepare for a Friday night showdown with Lane Kiffin and FAU. This one should be wildly entertaining, as FAU is coming off a Conference USA championship and could potentially be dangerous even for UCF. But the Knights are still the deeper program and should defend their home field against Kiffin’s Owls.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 vs. Pittsburgh (Orlando, Fla.)
A second ACC opponent on the schedule for UCF, and this time the game is at home. The Panthers could be difficult on defense at times, but making the trip to Florida and lacking much firepower on offense could leave Pitt short-handed and going home with a loss. The Knights could realistically be looking at a 5-0 record as they head back in to conference play in October.
Week 6 – Oct. 6 vs. SMU (Orlando, Fla.)
SMU may have taken some steps forward last season under Chad Morris, but the Mustangs are now coached by Sonny Dykes and are back in a rebuilding state of mind. UCF at home should be too solid of a team to crumble against SMU, although SMU gave UCF a close call last season in Texas.
Week 7 – Oct. 13 at Memphis (Memphis, Tenn.)
A rematch of the AAC Championship Game from last season, and potentially a preview of this season’s conference title game? UCF was 2-0 against a very good Memphis team last season, winning by a combined score of 102-68. Get ready for another potential shootout between the Knights and Tigers. Last team with the ball may win.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 at East Carolina (Greenville, N.C.)
After some potentially tricky games in conference play, UCF could get a bit of a breather just before the bye week. ECU has won three games in each of the past two seasons and the outlook for the Pirates is not too promising in 2018 either. UCF sank the Pirates last season, 63-21. UCF should manage to go on the road and get a win before getting a week off to prepare for November.
Week 10 – Nov. 1 vs. Temple (Orlando, Fla.)
After getting a week off on the schedule, UCF returns for a Thursday night matchup with the Owls in what could be a pivotal game in the AAC East Division race. The Knights had no problem separating themselves from Temple last season in a revenge situation. Temple is still trying to get back to the level of competing for the AAC crown in 2018 and could be in for a rough night in Orlando as November gets started.
Week 11 – Nov. 10 vs. Navy (Orlando, Fla.)
The Midshipmen are always a tough out, as UCF learned last season. Navy’s ability to run the clock with its option attack will cut down on offensive possessions for UCF, but the skills on the field still favor UCF. Staying in rhythm will be the key, but UCF should manage to make a few extra plays on offense to get a key win in conference play.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 vs. Cincinnati (Orlando, Fla.)
Cincinnati continues to be a program that has disappointed in the AAC, and by the time this game comes around the Bearcats may be trying to simply play spoiler for UCF. UCF getting a third straight game at home in conference play is a nice advantage to have, and UCF should be able to close out the home schedule with a win against the Bearcats. UCF won last year’s contest, 51-23, in Cincinnati.
Week 13 – Nov. 23 at USF (Tampa, Fla.)
If this game is anything like last season, we are in for quite the grand finale to the regular season. The stakes may be just as high for the division as they were last year, but the question is whether or not the New Year's Six picture will look similar. After last year’s back-and-forth contest, living up to the hype this season will be difficult, but the winner of this game may still be in line for the AAC Championship Game. Never look past the War on I-4.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. 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 @coachjoshheupel)