The 2017 UCF football season kicks off in just over a month. Coach Scott Frost came to Orlando last season and helped the Knights to a six-win improvement, which means expectations will be even higher this year. In this opponent preview series, we’ll be breaking down each team that UCF will see this fall.
Week 6 (Oct. 7, Time and TV TBA): at Cincinnati Bearcats
Last Year: 4-8 (1-7 American)
Last Meeting: UCF 24, Cincinnati 3 (Nov. 12, 2016)
All-time series: series tied 1-1
One year after a disastrous 4-8 season that ended with the resignation of coach Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati is looking to restore its fight. The team didn’t show a whole lot of it in 2016, with six of its eight losses coming by two touchdowns or more. One of those six was against UCF, which clinched the Knights’ bowl eligibility with a 24-3 home win in early November. Under new coach Luke Fickell, who previously served as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, the Bearcats are looking to rebound and not let a down year spiral into a bigger problem.
Cincinnati went through three starting quarterbacks last year, struggling to find a consistent go-to guy. Gunner Kiel is gone, but the Bearcats will see junior Hayden Moore and sophomore Ross Trail return to battle for the starting job. Moore is said to have the edge, though the decision may not be made until the fall. Also Gone is last year’s leading rusher Tion Green (743 yards, two touchdowns), but top receiver Devin Gray (860 yards, five touchdowns) is back for his senior year. The offensive line consists of a heavy dose of experience, which can only help whoever steps up under center and in the backfield. A year ago, the team averaged just 19.6 points per game, which leaves the new unit with a lot of room for improvement.
Considering the background of its new leader, the Cincinnati defense can be expected to take the lead in trying to turn the program around this fall. However, there are a couple of key holes to fill as the team goes through camp. At safety, the Bearcats need to replace sixth-round pick Mike Tyson, who was tied for second in the AAC last year with five interceptions. Also gone is all-AAC linebacker Eric Wilson, who led the conference in tackles last year. Those are two massive openings in the defense, but Cincinnati will have to hope that its veteran defensive line steps up. The line features three juniors: Cortez Broughton, Marquise Copeland and Kevin Mouhon.
The Bearcats will see the return of senior kicker Andrew Gantz, who missed time last year with an injury. In his absence, Josh Pasley was just 11-for-17 on field goals. The redshirt senior will also be back this year, though Gantz is likely to take the job back. He was named to the all-conference second team in both 2014 and 2015.
Cincinnati was a mess last year, which led to an offseason of transition. Despite that, the Bearcats were picked to finish fourth in the AAC East in the preseason media poll. They aren’t too likely to compete for the division crown just yet. However, with the base of talent they have, Fickell could have them back to their previous contender status fairly quickly.
Final Thoughts: UCF took care of Cincinnati with ease last year. The meeting will be a bit tougher this year, with it being on the road at Nippert Stadium. Other than the home-field advantage, though, the Bearcats may not have a lot going for them. It could be close early on, but expect the Knights to take control as the game progresses.