Knights put their undefeated record on the line in Dallas against the Mustangs
The month of November means it is crunch time in conference championship races. That is the case in the American Athletic Conference where UCF has emerged to be the team to beat in the AAC and the Group of 5 competition for a spot in the New Years Six. This week, however, UCF will look to keep its unbeaten record intact with a challenging road test against a rising SMU program.
Chad Morris of SMU and Scott Frost of UCF are two coaches who should be seeing their names tied to some various coaching rumors in the months to come because they are each doing outstanding work in turning their respective programs around. those Turnarounds have been built on offense, and this week's AAC matchup will feature the top two offenses the conference has to offer.
UCF at SMU
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 7:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: UCF -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Sophomore quarterback showdown
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton enters this week with the highest passer rating in the AAC, with CFB Stats showing a rating of 199.68, a good 40 points higher than the next best rating in the conference (Bryant Shirreffs, 156.1). With 19 touchdowns, Milton also is among the league leaders in touchdown passes, and he has only been picked off three times. SMU's sophomore signal-caller, Ben Hicks, is averaging 288.1 passing yards per game and has the same number of touchdowns (19) but with six interceptions. One key difference between the two is Milton's threat to take off running. He is far more an effective runner than SMU expects out of Hicks, and that could be a key to the game.
2. SMU = Sack Master University
If UCF is hoping to get a good showing from its quarterback, protecting him will be essential. SMU's Justin Lawler enters this weekend as the AAC's leader with 7.5 sacks, and linebacker Kyran Mitchell has added four of his own. Bringing down the opposing quarterbacks has been a key to SMU's success as the Mustangs are tied for the most sacks in the AAC with 24 (tied with USF). UCF struggles in this department, with just 10 sacks this season.
3. SMU wide receiver duo needs big plays
This game could very well become a shootout given the talent of these offenses. If SMU is going to defend home field, it will need a big game out of the AAC's leading receiver, Trey Quinn. Quinn has averaged 9.9 receptions per game for 109.3 yards per game with 874 yards and seven touchdowns. But it doesn't stop just with Quinn. Courtland Sutton (above, right) is just as dangerous, if not more lethal. Sutton averages 16.42 yards per reception this season with nine touchdowns. UCF's secondary will be tested with these two.
Go ahead and place UCF on upset alert this week, because SMU is equipped the way you need when going up against the Knights. SMU has the offense to keep up the pace with UCF, but the Knights do have a reliable defense to count on to make a few stops. That could be the difference this week, as SMU's defense is not quite up to that level. This one should be a high-scoring affair that goes back and forth. In the end, UCF can keep its plan of going undefeated going for at least one more week, but it will not be easy.
Prediction: UCF 56, SMU 45
— 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 @UCF_Football; Courtland Sutton photo courtesy of SMU Athletics)