The UCF Knights play host to the SMU Mustangs on Sunday afternoon in an AAC thriller from FBC Mortgage Stadium. With Hurricane Ian’s unfortunate timing, this game was pushed back to Sunday, though it isn’t likely to change the excitement surrounding one of the best college football games of the weekend. The Mustangs come in with a 2-2 record, having lost back-to-back nailbiters. For the Knights, they come in at 3-1, having won two in a row in their own right. Last season, SMU dominated, though with UCF having dominated the series of late, this seems like a game that could certainly go either way.
UCF Looking Like Conference Leader
UCF’s lone loss this season has come at the hands of Louisville and while far from a great loss, there’s little doubt that the Knights haven’t looked great in their other games. Two weeks ago, they bounced back nicely with a 26-point win, while last week they took down Georgia Tech by 17 points. Getting healthy and getting consistent have both been keys for this team in turning this around. Now that October is starting to roll along, this team looks like one that could win the AAC and compete for the coveted spot of the top Group of 5 team. Being at home should be a huge advantage and with “The Bounce House” rocking, Sunday should be a great college football event.
While they don’t have a completely empty injury report like their opponent, the Knights have done well to stay healthy themselves this season. Jordan Davis (undisclosed) remains out at tight end, while Amari Johnson (leg) is the only other play appearing on the injury report. With an already thin receiving core, Johnson’s status will want to be monitored prior to kickoff.
🚨Sunday Knights Football🚨— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) September 27, 2022
Due to Hurricane Ian, this week’s matchup with SMU has officially been moved to Sunday at 1:00PM
📺 = TBD on an ESPN network pic.twitter.com/vArhj2WfLq
It helps that UCF has one of the top dual-threat talents in college football leading the way and with Joh Rhys Plumlee under center, this team knows that they have a chance to be explosive on every play. Not only does the quarterback lead the way in passing, but he also leads the way on the ground as well. Isaiah Bowser helps support at running back and considering SMU’s struggles to stop the run, it appears like a prime opportunity for the Knights to control the game. With three interceptions and nine sacks though, decision-making will be key for Plumlee as he looks to help get the Knights the win in their AAC opener.
Defensively, the Knights have been stout in the secondary, which is good news heading into Sunday. They rank 18th nationally against the pass and considering SMU’s tendency to throw the ball, they’ll need to continue to be sharp in this one. With the nation’s 12th-best scoring defense, the bend but don’t break style has worked out perfectly for this group. Jason Johnson (32 tackles) has quietly emerged as one of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the country and with one of the nation’s best pass rushes, it could be a great opportunity on Sunday for UCF to strut their stuff on the defensive end as well.
SMU Preps For AAC Battle
For the Mustangs, preseason aspirations of coming away with the AAC title and being one of the top Group of 5 teams, have quickly given way to trying to snap out of their losing streak. Currently sitting on a two-game losing streak, the Mustangs now have to hit the road for one of the most challenging environments in the AAC. The hope is that losing one-score games to teams like Maryland and TCU over the last two weeks will serve this team well with the experience to run through conference play the best that they can. After dominating the Knights last season, the Mustangs are hoping they can find that form and energy and start AAC play with a crucial road win.
One advantage for the Mustangs is that they’ve been able to stay relatively healthy so far this season. Heading into this weekend, they have no injuries to report, and considering they might need every advantage they can get, it could go a long way towards determining this one.
Offensively, SMU is one of the most exciting teams to watch in the country and it starts with their passing game. Ranked fifth nationally in passing yards per game, this team has the explosiveness to stun UCF if not taken seriously. The running game hasn’t been nearly as dominant, though it wouldn’t come as a shock to see them put an emphasis on that in this one to control the clock and tempo. Tanner Mordecai (1385 yards, 12 touchdowns) is as elite as they come and it’ll help to have his experience to lean on in this one.
As good as the offense has been this season, the lack of cohesiveness on the defensive side of things has left quite a bit to be desired this season. They rank 94th nationally in yards allowed per game on the defensive end while ranking 109th against the run. Considering UCF has one of the country’s best ground games, this is a massive concern for Sunday. Isaac Slade-Matautia (25 tackles) will be counted on to lead thr way, though Nelson Paul (20 tackles, 3 sacks) is the one who can dictate this game.
Everything is shifting in UCF’s favor for this one and considering that they’ll be at home, that in itself should give the Knights a massive advantage in this AAC showdown. For the Mustangs, their inability to stop the run, especially with UCF being one of the top running teams in the country, will be too much for them to overcome as well. The Knights will be able to control the clock and by controlling the pace as well, won’t have any issues coming away with the win in this one. Additionally, according to covers.com, for SMU, they are 1-5 ATS in their last six games overall, while the Knights are 4-0-1 ATS in the last five meetings between the two teams at UCF.
Prediction: UCF (-3)
Written By Eric Ploch , “Eric P.”
Eric grew up surrounded by sports, whether it was spending the weekend catching games in person or on tv, or heading out to the fields to play whatever sport was in season. What started as a hobby, soon became a passion, as he became the sports editor of his high school newspaper, then wrote for his university newspaper during his undergrad years. After obtaining a degree in Sports Operations and Promotions, and spending 8 years deeply immersed in the sports world, Eric decided to take his love for analytics and predictions, and his experience, to online sports fans everywhere. James is now an integral part of our team here at StatSalt and has also been a very successful sports bettor over the years. Be sure and follow him daily.