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UCF Knights vs. Stanford Cardinal Preview and Prediction

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Both UCF and Stanford stumbled last week. Both offenses struggled to run the ball, being held under 100 yards in total. Both defenses allowed well over 300 yards. Both teams need a win.

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Apparently, the Cardinal offense was still feeling the time zone difference in Evanston, Ill. The offense did a light workout to start the game, a 64-yard opening drive resulting in a 29-yard field goal. Then the offense had an extended brunch before putting together a 55-yard march for a 37-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. In between those scores, the Cardinal offense managed to gain only 102 yards. How were the eggs Benedict and mimosas, I wonder? 

UCF had its own offensive struggles in its opener. The Knights gained only 46 yards on the ground against FIU. Quarterback Justin Holman drove downfield and threw two touchdown passes in the first half. UCF's offense seemed to have been stuck in the locker-room during second half until the final minutes of the game. In an attempt to score the game-winning points, the Knights' final drive bogged down at FIU's 23-yard line. Their hopes ended with a blocked 47-yard field goal attempt. Did anyone consider any adjustments to the rushing attack during the intermission?

These two programs are complete strangers to each other. Stanford will face a major college team from the Sunshine State for the first time in football. Likewise, UCF has never played a team from California. The Cardinal have only played twice versus a member of the Knights' conference. That was former member Boston College back in 2001 and '02 when the American Athletic Conference (AAC) was known as the Big East. UCF has only faced an opponent from the Pac-12 once previously, a 46-13 loss at Arizona State in 2002.

UCF at Stanford

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Spread: Stanford -19

Three Things to Watch

1. The resistible force versus the moveable object

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The Cardinal defense permitted Northwestern to pile up 225 yards rushing on 54 carries for a 4.2 yards-per-carry average. The Knights' running game managed only 46 yards on 30 attempts for a 1.5 ypc. Which team can shore up its glaring weakness in order to exploit that of the opponent?

2. Inexperienced starters on the road

During a press conference this week, UCF's head coach George O'Leary described his team as "indecisive" and "tentative" in the loss to FIU. Of UCF's first-team offense that started against FIU, only four of them were returning starters from 2014. One of the four, Michael Campbell, had been switched from tackle to tight end. Only two of the Knights' defensive starters in the first week of this season were on the regular first-team last season. Can the plethora of neophytes handle a game so far from home? Will the crowd in a stadium not reputed as either noisy or intimidating rattle the visitors?

3. Reversal of time difference disadvantage

This week, Stanford might be the team that benefits from its opponent having to travel more than a thousand miles and across more than one time zone for a game. The game will kick off at what would feel like 10:30 p.m. for the Knights. Can the guys from the Eastern time zone adjust to playing so late? Otherwise, their bodies will be winding down by halftime for what will feel like midnight to their internal clocks. Might the coaches let the Knights sleep late or have them take a nap in the afternoon? I suggest espresso should be served on the sidelines instead of the typical sports beverages.

Final Analysis

While both teams stumbled out of the gate, Stanford's defeat looks less awful. Losing to a Big Ten member on the road in an early kickoff is more forgivable than dropping a home game to a team from the American Athletic Conference. The Cardinal and Knights will play evenly through the first half. Stanford's more experienced players will pull away and rediscover its running game along the way.

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Prediction: Stanford 23, UCF 13

— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.