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UCF Knights vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Preview and Prediction

Pharoh Cooper

Pharoh Cooper

The UCF Knightscome to Columbia this Saturday, and it couldn't come at a better time for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

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South Carolina is humiliated after losing their last two games to Kentucky and Georgia, the latter by a 52-20 score. But UCF is broken, with eight key injuries on offense including their starting quarterback, Justin Holman, and receiver Jordan Akins. George O'Leary's Knights, 21-5 the last two seasons, are now 0-3 following a 16-15 loss to Furman last Saturday.

Suddenly the woes of the Gamecocks (1-2) don't seem so bad. At least USC has a victory, even if not their own starting quarterback, Connor Mitch.

UCF at South Carolina

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPNU

Spread: USC -14

Three Things To Watch

1. Who will be playing quarterback, and when?

Lorenzo Nunez will get his first start at South Carolina against UCF after Perry Orth proved ineffective against Georgia, completing just 6-of-17 passes.

While Nunez was accurate with his passing in the second half, completing four of five passes, he gained only 18 yards with them. Instead, he accumulated 76 yards rushing.

The Knights aren't much better off. Holman was to get the stitches taken out of his broken finger on Tuesday and O'Leary is holding out hope he can return on Saturday, but that's not considered a likelihood.

Instead, UCF's head coach will likely choose between Bo Schneider or Tyler Harris, and he's indicated the starter will play the entire game. Schneider has started both games since Holman was injured in Week 1 and Harris has relieved him in both games. Both have produced just one touchdown drive this season.

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So far this season Schneider has completed 14-of-30 passes for 109 yards and two interceptions, while Harris is 14-for-32 for 131 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

2. Which is worse, the Knights' offense or the South Carolina defense?

South Carolina is giving up 7.3 yards a play on defense, which is worst in the Southeastern Conference and 124th (out of 128) in the nation. UCF is gaining 3.7 yards per play, last not only in the American Athletic Conference, but dead last (yes, 128th) in the country among FBS teams.

The dismissal of All-Conference running back Will Stanback from the Knights for illegal drug use will not help the UCF offense, either.

Against Furman, UCF allowed a 61-yard touchdown pass, so the thought here is that Pharoh Cooper could finally break a long gain... if Nunez can get the ball to him.

3. Strategy

Steve Spurrier was once famous for using a two quarterback system, or rather changing quarterbacks at the first sign of trouble. It would be a surprise if that trend doesn't continue this season, and not just in circumstances when South Carolina is trailing by three touchdowns.

O'Leary, meanwhile, has hinted he would like to shed the interim athletic director title he has and move into the role full time, while leaving the coaching duties to someone else.

So both Spurrier and O'Leary are now on the hot seat. Questions remain about Spurrier's ability to recruit due to his age, which is used against him as rivals tell prospects he won't be around for their entire college career.

And at 69 years of age, O'Leary is only one year younger than Spurrier.

Point is, if a strategic gaffe costs either team the game, it may help grease the skids to their departure. Even though both programs have regressed in recent times it is difficult to see either one being fired — bad strategy could be what gets the boosters, administration and fans to pressure a coach into leaving.

Final Analysis

The Knights are likely just the opponent South Carolina needed. An interesting note is UCF has only sacked opposing quarterbacks twice this season, so perhaps Nunez won't be chased from the pocket and can concentrate on throwing from the pocket in this game. 

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Prediction: South Carolina 28, UCF 14

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.