The East Carolina Pirates are set to play their first game of the 2020 college football season, but it certainly will be no easy task. ECU plays host to the UCF Knights, the perennial AAC contenders which are fresh off a big win and looking to prove they are still the team to beat in the AAC and the Group of 5 race to the New Year's Six.
UCF has won four consecutive games in the series dating back to 2016, and none of them have been close. Can the Pirates regain some momentum in the series and pull a big upset to start the year?
UCF at East Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: UCF -27
When UCF Has the Ball
The UCF offense looked like a pretty well-oiled machine in its delayed season debut last weekend at Georgia Tech. Dillon Gabriel threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns in the Knights' big road victory against the Yellow Jackets. Expect plenty of more air attack from UCF against East Carolina, which ranked 10th in the AAC against the pass last season.
This being East Carolina's first game could mean that its defense isn't quite up to speed anyway, which plays to UCF's advantage in a big way. As if they needed it. UCF racked up 243 yards on the ground last week too, with Otis Anderson recording a team-high 88 yards and a touchdown. It should be a long afternoon for the Pirates' defense because UCF is already clicking in multiple ways.
When East Carolina Has the Ball
After passing for over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2019, ECU quarterback Holton Ahlers gives the Pirates a steady hand guiding the offense in 2020. And he is accompanied by last year's leading rusher Demetrius Mauney, giving East Carolina a good solid foundation to base their offense.
UCF linebacker Eriq Gilyard is coming off a stellar season debut against Georgia Tech with 10 tackles. He'll be found tracking the football often in this one too. Notably, the Knights did not record a sack last week, but watch out for Kenny Turnier, Eric Mitchell, and Tre'mon Morris-Brash, who combined for 9.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for a loss last season.
In a season that has seen a number of teams look rusty to start the year, UCF looked primed and ready to make some noise in their season-opener. This week should see more of the same, as the Knights should be able to flex their muscle against the Pirates. The combination of skill and speed advantages UCF brings to the field should overwhelm East Carolina from the start, and the Knights won't take long to create a solid cushion to waltz their way to a 2-0 start to the season.
Prediction: UCF 52, East Carolina 23
(Top photo courtesy of UCF Athletics)