The Cincinnati Bearcats play host to the Central Florida Knights in what has become one of the premier rivalries in the American Athletic Conference. After UCF set the tone for undefeated teams trying to break into the College Football Playoff a few seasons ago, the Bearcats now find themselves taking aim at football's final four when it's all said and done. The game, which will take place Saturday afternoon from Nippert Stadium, will likely be lacking some of the intrigues of previous seasons, but still could be one of the Bearcats' last true tests. UCF enters 3-2 and is coming off a closer-than-usual win over East Carolina, while the Bearcats are fresh off a dominant performance over Temple to continue their strong start to the campaign. Cincinnati has won each of the last two in the series, winning by three points each of the last two seasons, with UCF taking three straight prior. With all eyes on Cincinnati being the hunted now, the Knights are happy to have all the pressure off of them for the first time in the last few seasons. Expect Saturday's game to be one of the AAC's most exciting this season and a great opener to a huge day of college football.
UCF Looks To Spring UpsetUCF started the season with high hopes, especially after a season-opening comeback against Boise State. Unfortunately, the positivity only lasted a few weeks until the Lousiville game, a blown lead that saw them not only lose the game but also lose their quarterback. Since then, it has been a struggle. A loss to Navy ensued and it took a last-minute score to take down East Carolina last weekend. As one of the best programs in the history of the American Athletic Conference, this season doesn't seem one to be going down in any history books. The Knights do have the ability now to end someone else's dream season though, just a few years removed from their own undefeated season. Cincinnati is unlike any team that this group of Knights has seen over the last few years and given that they're already 0-2 on the road, it seems difficult to imagine them hanging around on Saturday afternoon. UCF is already without four key players, including highly influential quarterback, Dillon Gabriel. Three other players are questionable for this weekend's tilt, with wide receiver Jaylon Robinson (undisclosed) being the most impactful if he's unable to give it a go. This offense can't take any more personnel losses on the offensive side of things, especially given how many issues they might have on defense with the Bearcats.
Prep for Cincinnati 📝— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 11, 2021
Mikey Keene hasn't wasted any time stepping in at quarterback but the offense has operated much differently, and much less efficiently, in Gabriel's absence. The running game was looking like it could be special this season on the legs of Isaiah Bowser but his knee injury now has a committee by backfield approach being employed by the Knights. Johnny Richardson looks like the new leader but only has one touchdown and the offense doesn't have enough weapons right now to consistently move the ball. They rank 21st nationally in points per game but that's somewhat skewed due to Gabriel's earlier starts. The one positive for the Knights is they at least have a balance on the offensive side of things, ranking 70th in rushing attempts per game and 39th in passing attempts per game. Balance is the only way the Knights will even have a chance this weekend.
Defensively, Central Florida hasn't exactly helped their offense out in recent weeks. They rank 81st in points allowed per game and one of their biggest issues is their inability to get to the quarterback. After years of having a relentless pass rush, the Knights are only averaging 1.20 sacks per game and the concern is their inability to make life difficult at all for Cincinnati's offense. Bryson Armstrong is the leading tackler on the team with 45 tackles but even with the weakened pass rush, he hasn't had much help in the secondary behind him. The Knights only have four interceptions on the year and Cincinnati shouldn't have a tough time shredding the defense given all the gaps that exist.
Bearcats with Eyes On CFPThe Bearcats are already off and running in what was hyped up as a massive season for their group. Non-conference road games against both Indiana and Notre Dame loomed and Cincinnati took care of those without a problem. Every game this season has been a double-digit win and Cincinnati seems to be on a collision course for an undefeated season and what is sure to be plenty of conversation surrounding their likelihood to get into the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats enter Saturday as one of the healthiest teams in the conference, with only wide receiver Jadon Thompson (undisclosed) questionable. As the seventh leading receiver on the team, even if Thompson can't give it a go, the Bearcats offense shouldn't skip a beat at home on Friday. Add in how strong their defense has been this season and the Bearcats have a good shot to make it six straight wins to open the season. The Bearcats are a tough out anywhere, but especially at home, and the Knights will feel the full force of that on Saturday afternoon.
⬇️ Yesterday’s victory by the numbers. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/j70mf5G5Mp— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) October 9, 2021
Cincinnati enters the weekend ranking ninth nationally in points per game and 12th in total yards per play. They remain one of the most efficient offenses in the country and the experience at their skill positions might be unmatched across the country. Desmond Ritter has a serious shot at the Heisman and is one of the most elusive signal-callers in the country. He has 12 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions and is second on the team in rushing, at 20 yards per game and a few touchdowns on the ground. Jerome Ford is a force in the backfield, averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground and helps the Bearcats control the game. Given UCF's struggles stopping the run already this season, it shouldn't come as a surprise to see Ford get the bulk of the carries and the Bearcats try to control the line of scrimmage and time of possession en route to a win. The second half has been Cincinnati's bread and butter this season and if UCF isn't around at halftime, they won't be able to stick around once the Bearcats make their second-half adjustments. Expect Cincinnati to show why they're a top-five team and for the offense to carry the way on Saturday afternoon.
For all the accolades that Cincinnati might come home with on the offensive side of things, the defense still remains one of the best nationally. Even though they lost their dynamic defensive coordinator to Notre Dame in the offseason, the Bearcats still remain one of the most feared groups nationally. Deshawn Pace leads the way with 40 tackles and has added two interceptions as well as the leader of one of the most active secondaries in college football. Darrian Beavers leads the team with four sacks and their combination of a strong pass rush and solid secondary continues to be their key to victory. Fans expect a heavy dose of blitzing and pressure from Cincinnati on Saturday and the constant pressure might prove to be too much for the young Central Florida offense to handle. Between the pressure the offense will put on UCF to keep pace with them and the tenacity of the defense, it could be a great afternoon for Cincinnati fans.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Cincinnati has shown through the first month of the season that they are a true contender for the College Football Playoff and a game against a depleted UCF team shouldn't raise too many concerns for the weekend. UCF is beaten up on the offensive side of the ball and while the season-long injury to their starting quarterback is well known, they are also without their top running back and one of their top wide receivers. With those last two skill position players out, it makes it even that much more difficult to put much faith into the hands of a freshman quarterback who is trying to navigate his way. For the Bearcats, they get it done consistently on both sides of the ball and between their offense's ability to control the clock and the game essentially, and their defense's ability to harass opponents and lean on their secondary in key situations, it doesn't seem like anyone in the AAC, let alone UCF, is going to be able to take them down. Additionally, according to covers.com, for Cincinnati, they are 7-0 ATS in their last seven games after accumulating more than 450 total yards in their previous game, are 7-0 ATS in their last seven games after allowing less than 100 yards rushing in their previous game, and are 4-0 ATS in their last four games in October. For UCF, they are 0-4 ATS in their last four road games, 1-6 ATS in their last seven games overall, and are 1-5 ATS in their last six games in October. In the series between the two teams, the home team is also 5-1 ATS in their last six meetings.
Full-Game Total Pick
Neither of these teams has an issue scoring the ball and Cincinnati especially has made quick work of most of their opponents this season without much issue. Not only do the Bearcats have one of the most electric offenses in the country but also one of the most efficient. They maximize their possessions and given UCF's struggles defensively this season, this should be no different. For UCF, their offense is built to be dynamic and high-scoring even if they don't make the most of their possessions. Additionally, according to covers.com, for Cincinnati, the over is 4-0 in their last four games after allowing less than 100 yards rushing in their previous game and is 4-0 in their last four conference games. For UCF, the over is 4-0 in their last four games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game and is 4-1 in Knight's last five games overall.