The 2017 UCF football season kicks off in just a few weeks. 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 10 (Nov. 4, Time and TV TBA): at SMU Mustangs
Last Year: 5-7 (3-5 American)
Last Meeting: UCF 53, SMU 7 (Nov. 22, 2014)
All-time series: UCF leads 6-1
After a week nine bye week, UCF will match up with SMU for the first time since 2014. The Knights have a three-game winning streak against the Mustangs, which they will look to extend when they visit Dallas for the first time since clinching the conference title there in 2013. SMU won just three games between 2014 and 2015, but finished with five victories last year. Coach Chad Morris seems to have the program going in the right direction. Reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2012 will likely be the big goal in 2017 for the third-year coach.
This fall, the quarterback position looks like it’ll have some depth. Redshirt sophomore Ben Hicks is the current No. 1 after playing in 12 games as a redshirt freshman. To keep his job though, he’ll have to stave off junior Rafe Peavey, who transferred from Arkansas. The winner of the job will have the luxury of throwing to SMU’s top eight receivers from last year. One of those is junior Courtland Sutton, who led the way last year with 76 catches for 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns. Former four-star recruit Trey Quinn, who transferred from LSU last year, is also eligible to play this fall. The passing game should be a big strength for SMU, with the ground game won’t be too far behind. Junior Braeden West ran for 1,085 yards and six scores last year. He is back for 2017, as are sophomore Ke’Mon Freeman and redshirt sophomore Xavier Jones, the team’s second and third rushers from 2016. The offensive line should hold up well too, which will allow for maximum efficiency of what looks to be a good run-pass balance.
Defense was where the Mustangs struggled last year, allowing about 36 points per game. They allowed 30 or more points nine times and finished the year by allowing 68 points to Navy in a 75-31 loss. 2017 should see at least some improvement, with good experience coming back. Only six of 11 starters are returning, but nearly everyone that steps into new starting roles had sufficient experience in 2016. Only two defensive linemen with significant playing time are returning this year, but the unit will gain a new member in Tennessee transfer Dimarya Mixon. The youth in last year’s secondary is now a year older, so that should help a considerable amount. The unit as a whole may not be pushing for the best in the conference this year, but it shouldn’t be as poor as it was last year.
ESPN FPI’s win predictability favors SMU in just five games this year, which would match last year’s win total. The offense may be talented enough to surpass that mark, which would get the Mustangs back to a bowl game. The AAC preseason media poll didn’t look too promising for them though, as they were picked to finish fifth out of six in the AAC West.
Final Thoughts: With this matchup coming on the first Saturday in November, UCF should avoid playing in the same icy conditions it experienced back in 2013. That big break can’t be overstated, as the 2013 Fiesta Bowl-winning Knights escaped with just a four-point win over the Mustangs in a December meeting. SMU’s offense might be able to make UCF pay if it leaves its defense out on the field for too long. But if the Knights can avoid that, they should be in good shape. Either way, the eighth installment of this series should be a highly entertaining one.