The noise—both literal and figurative—is finally dying down from last weekend’s 40-13 win over Memphis, just in time for No. 25 UCF to take the field again. The Knights (3-0, 1-0 AAC) are in Cincinnati for a Saturday night matchup against the Bearcats (2-3, 0-1 AAC).
“This is gonna be a challenge,” coach Scott Frost said. “We’re going up to that place, not an easy place to play, in a night game. We’re gonna have to earn this one.”
A victory would improve UCF to 4-0 for the first time in its Division I run, which started in 1996. The only other 4-0 start for the Knights came in 1988, when they were still competing in Division II. The recognition for Frost’s program was plentiful throughout the week, but the team is going about its business and blocking out the noise.
“The rankings are great, but at end of the day, we’re trying to go game by game and win every game that we can,” sophomore Adrian Killins said.
Frost is keeping his team focused on what lies ahead, and this week, what lies ahead is a rebuilding Cincinnati team. The Bearcats are in year-one under coach Luke Fickell, the former Ohio State defensive coordinator. His team has shown flashes of potential this season, hanging in with the likes of Michigan and Navy. There have also been definite growing pains, such as a mere 12-point win over Austin Peay and a 17-point home loss to Marshall.
“We went through it last year with it being our first year,” Frost said. “It takes a while. You can see it starting to come with [Cincinnati]. They’re playing disciplined, they’re sound. You can see [Fickell’s] mark starting to be made on that football team. Inevitably, the results are going to follow after that.”
The Knights come into Saturday night’s game as heavy favorites. They have clicked in all facets this season, which has translated to a top-10 ranking in both scoring offense and defense. The only two teams that have are top-10 in both categories are Alabama and Washington, two of the four teams that reached the College Football Playoff last year.
A big factor in UCF’s early success this season is sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton, who has shown vast improvement from last year. He had an up-and-down year in 2016, but in 2017, he’s looking far more polished. As a result, he was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List this week.
“It’s kind of a progress that I expected him to make from his freshman year to his sophomore year,” Frost said. “We threw him into the deep end last year. He did some great things and he did some really bad things. This year, he’s getting us in and out of plays, he’s running the offense, playing with a ton of confidence. I’m thrilled with the play we’ve gotten from him.”
Milton is finding a multitude of different receivers in the passing game, while receiving plenty of help from the run game. With sophomore Jawon Hamilton out due to an injury, the Knights have seen contributions from Killins (192 yards, two touchdowns), junior Taj McGowan (102 yards, four touchdowns) and freshmen Otis Anderson and Cordarrian Richardson.
“We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of players that we can depend on,” Anderson said. “Losing Jawon really hurt us, but now we play with a chip on our shoulder for him.”
The UCF defense completely shut down Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson last week, forcing him to turn the ball over four times. Cincinnati is sticking with junior quarterback Hayden Moore this week, despite some struggles throughout the first five games. His nine touchdowns to four interceptions isn’t all that bad, but he is completing just over 50 percent of his passes. The Knights, who have been all over opposing quarterbacks this year, have to be licking their chops heading into Saturday’s matchup.
“Coach [Chinander] has them playing well,” Frost said. “He deserves a ton of credit for what’s going on.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s AAC matchup is set for 8 p.m.