Here we are, it’s week 11 of the 2018 college football season and a much-anticipated match-up between two AAC powerhouses is slated for Saturday afternoon. Ok…so maybe I’m over-selling it just a little bit, but we are looking at a face-off between a program that hasn’t lost a game since the Obama administration, and another team struggling to find their identity and salvage what’s left of this 2018 campaign.
The Knights of Central Florida have a great deal on the line this weekend. They have been fighting for serious recognition from the College Football Playoff Committee since they took down Auburn in the Peach Bowl last year. In case you forgot, the Auburn Tigers were the only program to best eventual National Champions Alabama in 2017. The Knights went on to finish the season 13-0 and here we are nearly a year later, and they have run off 21 consecutive victories. You would think that puts them in the discussion for a spot in the Playoff right? Well you would be wrong, because they started out at 12 once the CFP Committee got involved starting week 10. That ranking earned them a drop in the coaches and AP polls from 9 to 11 even though they beat a very good Temple team.
This article isn’t about how crappy the playoff committee is, because if you’ve made it this far, you are probably intimately familiar with the drama us non-power fivers have to deal with year in and year out. The only reason I bring it up is because Navy’s fall from grace this year is really bad for UCF’s chances at making any kind of significant headway in the CFP poll regardless of the outcome. If the Knights win, who cares, Navy is having a bad year and we all know who you beat matters, especially at this point in the season. If Navy wins, or even manages to keep it close, the Knights will probably have to come to terms with not making it back to a New Year’s Six bowl.
Unfortunately for the Knights, Navy’s record isn’t reflective of the team’s talent or potential. Yes, by all accounts this has been a very forgettable year for the Mids. What once started out with high hopes and an incredibly dynamic playmaker under center, has resulted in a 2-7 record to this point, 3 different QBs, and some of the worst losses for the program in recent memory. But I will say it again: none of that is reflective of this team’s talent or potential.
Now I am not going to sit here and tell you to expect an upset tomorrow in Orlando, however, crazier things have happened this year. Right now all I am saying the Knights know they have to handle the Mids before they can even hope to get any love in the polls.
How To Watch:
Time: 12:00 p.m. (EDT) on Saturday, 10 Nov 2018.
Watch: ESPN2 and Watch ESPN (also AFN Sports tape delay at 4:00 AM)
Location: Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, FL
Rankings: Navy enters week eleven of the S&P+ rankings at 110; University of Central Florida is at 8
Betting Lines: UCF is -24.5; O/U is 64.5
Keys to Success
Navy decided to go with Zach Abey as the starting QB last week, and even though Coach Niumatalolo said they would have to evaluate every position, one would expect there is a good chance we will see Abey under center again Saturday. If that is the case, I like the decision, because Abey has a demonstrated ability to get the offense going. Don’t forget this team started off 5-0 last year just prior to a few bad bounces and the injury bug hitting. Abey was leading this squad in that start, and knows what it takes to be effective under center.
The defense can’t be blamed for last week’s loss against the Bearcats. Sure 42-0 looks pretty bad, but Cincy has been on a roll this season, and the Navy D was able to get a few stops out there. They also weren’t giving up a ton of big plays either. The Navy offense did not do them any favors, as they were unable to sustain any drives, which will be the key to keeping UCF’s offense on the sideline this weekend.
McKenzie Milton came back to face Temple last week, after missing the Knight’s matchup against East Carolina due to an injury, and he didn’t miss a beat. Milton threw for 312 yards and 3 passing touchdowns; he added another 19 yards and a score on the ground as well.
Navy’s best bet in order to neutralize Milton would be to not let him on the field. The triple option can be extremely effective in terms of production and time of possession once you get it rolling. Look for deliberately slow drives from the offense and possibly zero passing plays if the ground game is effective.
Coach Niumat will be the first to tell you his team needs to play a perfect game, and also hope the Knights make some mistakes along the way. Past performance from this season indicates that although Navy may catch a few breaks from UCF mistakes, you can also expect Navy to reciprocate that kindness.
Look, I am an unabashed Navy Football optimist. Of course there is a part of me that honestly believes this team is going to put it all together this weekend and piss off the head shed of the AAC by shattering the Knights historic 21-0 run at the CFP. I can honestly tell you that would not surprise me. I will also say that while I have consistently been on Team UCF Knights, in the battle against the crapshoot that is the CFP Committee’s rankings, I would love to see a shake up. What can I say? Some people just want to see the world burn.
Navy won’t win tomorrow, but they will do just enough for the committee to continue their garbage arguments for keeping the Knights just on the fringe of the New Year’s Six bowls. Abey under center will prove to be a wise move. After working off the rust from last week’s “welcome back” game, the Abey led triple option will start running as close to perfection as we have seen this season. They will win the time of possession battle, and the fresh Navy defense will force at least two turnovers; the Mids will even lead at half time. UCF is used to slow starts this season, and are no strangers to a comeback. The Knights will take a late fourth quarter lead, with enough time on the clock for the Mids to get a drive going that will ultimately result in a turnover on downs.
UCF escapes a in close one 31-28.