UCF and Maryland will look to stay undefeated when the teams square off in College Park on Saturday afternoon. Both teams were idle a week ago as the Terrapins had the week off after upsetting Texas and then drubbing FCS opponent Towson.
UCF had to cancel its contest with Georgia Tech after postponing an American Athletic Conference (AAC) showdown with Memphis the week prior because of Hurricane Irma. The Knights opened the season with a 61-17 rout of fellow Sunshine State program FIU.
Both teams finished 6-7 in 2016, but Maryland was able to get the better of UCF when the teams met in Orlando, winning 30-24 in double overtime. The Terrapins are looking to start 3-0 for the second season in a row under head coach DJ Durkin. The Knights haven’t started 2-0 since 2013, when they finished 12-1 including a win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
UCF at Maryland
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 3 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX Sports 1
Spread: Maryland -3.5
Three Things to Watch
While UCF and Maryland have played fewer games than most other teams in the country, the Knights (61.0 ppg) and Terrapins (57.0) currently rank No. 1 and No. 2 nationally in points per game. After an up-and-down campaign in 2016, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton shined in the opener against FIU, passing for 360 yards and four touchdowns. Milton played well against Maryland last season with 260 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but couldn’t do enough to get the Knights the victory. Milton also had a costly fumble in the second overtime.
Maryland freshman quarterback Kasim Hill has been outstanding since taking over for an injured Tyrrel Pigrome. Hill has misfired on just three of his 19 attempts and can make defenders miss with his legs as well. Surrounding Hill, running back Ty Johnson and wide receiver D.J. Moore have been outstanding to this point. Johnson has 256 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 17 carries while Moore has 230 yards receiving and three scores on 14 catches.
2. Turnover battle
So far, both the Terrapins and Knights have been on winning ends of the turnover battle. UCF was plus-two in its season-opening victory over FIU. Maryland is plus-three for the season, which included a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown by Darnell Savage in the Week 2 victory over Towson.
In last season’s contest, Maryland forced four UCF turnovers without giving the ball away. That made a huge difference in the 30-24 victory as the Terrapins cashed in with seven points off turnovers in regulation. It was a Milton fumble in the second overtime that allowed Maryland to win the game.
3. Linebackers Shaquem Griffin and Jermaine Carter
For all the offense that Saturday’s contest should bring, this game also showcases some outstanding defensive players, particularly at the linebacker position. For UCF, Griffin (above, right) is coming off a season in which he recorded 92 tackles, 20 for a loss and 11.5 sacks and was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year. As a 3-4 outside linebacker, Griffin’s versatility is what makes him so difficult to game plan against. Griffin is an outstanding pass rusher, but he also can defend out in space and is underrated in coverage. Griffin however, was held to just three tackles in the opener against FIU.
For Maryland, Jermaine Carter is the guy to watch. Through two games this season, Carter has 15 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Although Carter finished with six sacks last season, he is the definition of a run stopper. Carter flows to the football with ease and always seems to be in position to make a play. In a game where offense is expected to be at the forefront, both teams possess senior linebackers who can change the narrative in a hurry.
After making a bowl game and finishing 6-7 last season, UCF and Maryland are each looking to take the next step. The Knights impressed in their season opener, but Scott Frost's team hasn't played since due to Hurricane Irma and now are making the trek to Maryland to face a Power 5 team. For DJ Durkin and company, wrapping up the non-conference slate undefeated before entering Big Ten play would be another sign of progress for the program. With a win at Texas already under their belt and more proven playmakers, this contest seems to favor the Terrapins.
Prediction: Maryland 38, UCF 31
(Shaquem Griffin photo courtesy of UCF Athletics)