Central Florida gets a primetime date against Louisville and a chance at a statement win.

Written By Ben Hayes

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We have a non-conference matchup featuring Louisville (0-1 SU, 0-1 ATS) at UCF (1-0 SU, 1-0 ATS) on Friday night at 7:30pmET from FBC Mortgage Stadium in Orlando.

These teams faced each other last season with Louisville getting the win 42-35 as a 7-point favorite at home. Malik Cunningham threw for 265 yards with one passing TD and two rushing scores.

A much tougher test for UCF

UCF took care of business in their opener against South Carolina State at home. They are fortunate in their non-conference slate to face Louisville and Georgia Tech at home along with SC State. Head coach Gus Malzahn decided to go with Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee at quarterback over sophomore Mikey Keene (1,730 yds last year). The dual-threat quarterback completed 20 of 31 for 308 yards and four TDs, while rushing for 86 yards and one TD against the Bulldogs.

Plumlee is not a big guy at 6-feet tall, but is extremely fast. He was so fast that Lane Kiffin moved him to wide receiver at Ole Miss and reportedly ran a 4.3 40 in high school. Plumlee played as a freshman at Ole Miss and ran for 1,023 yards with 12 TDs, while throwing for 910 yards with four TDs and three picks before moving to a different position.

“He’s a great competitor,”  Malzahn said in a post-game press conference about Plumlee. “He can create when things break down, he makes some really good plays with his feet on third down to keep some drives alive.”

Plumlee’s favorite target in the opener was Alabama transfer Javon Baker, who caught five passes for 84 yards and a TD. Tight end Kenmore Gamble added three catches for 72 yards and a TD. Senior RB Isaiah Bowser added 83 yards rushing with two scores on 23 attempts.

Defensively, the Knights held SC State to just 91 yards of offense. That’s a dominant performance from a defense that allowed 369.3 yards per game to rank 53rd in the nation. They will certainly be tested a lot more in this game.

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The Cards were hammered in their first game 31-7 at Syracuse last Saturday as a 5.5-point favorite. The Knights crushed FCS South Carolina State 56-10 last Thursday.

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The good news was that Tennessee transfer Tiyon Evans led the team with 89 rushing yards. He also had the Cardinals’ only touchdown with 1:10 left in the first quarter on a 36-yard run. Tyler Hudson led the team with eight catches for 102 yards. He’s a junior transfer from Central Arkansas, who had 27 touchdown receptions in three seasons and was named ASUN Player of the Year.

Defensively, the Cards were pretty average last season in a 6-7 year. They struggled the most against the pass, allowing 245.6 yards per game. They also allowed a 42.5% rushing success rate, which ranked 97th among FBS defenses. Opponents averaged 5.22 yards per rush against Louisville. Syracuse racked up 449 yards of total offense and averaged 5.2 yards per carry so they did not take a step up in their opener.

Cunningham struggles against Cuse

Malik Cunningham completed 16 of 22 for 152 yards, but had two interceptions and just 34 yards rushing on 13 attempts in Louisville’s loss at Syracuse last Saturday. The fourth-year starter was also sacked three times and lost a fumble. Cunningham contributed three turnovers, but the defense didn’t help by getting gashed on the ground for 207 yards on 40 attempts and allowing 242 passing yards. The lack of tackling and the noise in the JMA Wireless Dome were also factors.

“It hurts,” Cunningham said after the game on 247sports. “I’m very disappointed. The team is disappointed. I’m disappointed in myself. I let my team down, let my city down. I just got to learn from it.”

Talk about a reactionary line. Yes, UCF played great in their opener against South Carolina State, but let’s hold on. That came against an FCS team. Louisville put up 42 points on the Knights last season with a lot of the same faces on defense. Cunningham had a huge game with 364 total yards and three TDs. He’s coming off a terrible game where the noise at the dome hampered the Louisville offense. He’s one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation and while Plumlee can run, the Cards will put a spy on him and force him to be more of a passer.

Prediction: Louisville +5.5

Written By Ben Hayes , “Ben the Pen”

Ben has been a sports writer for over 35 years, dabbling in college and pro basketball, college and pro football, baseball, college lacrosse, minor league baseball and even college gymnastics. He’s also been involved in the gaming industry for nearly 30 years and has been looking to beat the books since he was 13! Ben has had great success in handicapping college football, the NFL, college basketball, the NBA and MLB for 27+ years. 

His Twitter handle is @BenHayesWAW