Alex Frank | Sports Director
The No. 24 Cincinnati Bearcats will be playing in prime time under the lights Saturday night at the No. 11 Central Florida Knights.
It’s ABC’s game of the week and, to add to it, ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Orlando, Florida starting at 9 a.m. on ESPN.
“I think you can’t not talk about it,” head coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “But you kind of got to get those things out of the way and you say hey now when you go on the road, big game you got to remember what it comes down to. It hasn’t changed: it’s relentless defense, opportunistic offense and superior special teams.
“These games are won Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday in the preparation. They aren’t just won on Saturday with the energy and hype and going out there and making plays.”
How to stop UCF’s offense
No secrets here.
The Knights have one of, if not the most, explosive offenses in the country ranking No. 8 with 44.2 points per game and No. 3 with 543 yards per game.
Anchoring Central Florida’s offense is junior quarterback McKenzie Milton, who has racked up 2,309 passing yards and 21 touchdowns in eight games.
With weapons to throw to led by wide receivers Gabriel Davis (So.) and Dredrcik Snelson (Jr.), who each have five touchdowns on the season, Milton and UCF’s offense have produced 80 plays of 20 or more yards so far this season.
Nineteen of those plays have gone for touchdowns.
“They do a great job,” Fickell said. “You can’t get frustrated cause the ball is coming out in 1.6 seconds or 2.2 seconds. It’s still about pressure. It’s still about the things you need to do upfront to make it tougher on him to do the job.”
Fickell talked about how Milton has not been sacked much this year but that balls batted down are just as good as sacks in games like the one on Saturday.
He also talked about his abilities as a thrower, which has led to his 60.2 completion percentage through the Knights first nine games.
“His ability to make all the throws that they do and make them very accurately is amazing,” Fickell said. “I think it’s very unique and the timing in which he does it.”
The Knights offense has also scored at least 30 points in each of their 22 straight wins.
College Gameday is a first for Cincinnati Football and the American Athletic Conference
The premier pregame show in all of sports has been around since 1987 but has never featured the Cincinnati Bearcats or the American Athletic Conference until Saturday.
“It’s catch-22. You love it,” Fickell said. “The campus, you love it for our fans, you love it for our alumni, you know for our kids. Everybody loves to have their program and the things that they’ve done, you know these guys deserve that.”
Central Florida garnered a lot of national attention in going undefeated last year, and this year they and the rest of the conference are finally getting rewarded with College Gameday.
“That’s what we wanted,” Fickell said. “I think this conference has deserved it. We all understand their 22-game win streak and what they did last year. Now, if we hadn’t done what we have done, had we not taken care of business last week, it wouldn’t be like this.
“I think it’s a great thing for our conference. I think it’s great for college football in general. But I think it’s also great for our two programs.”
The difference a year can make
Last year the Bearcats were obliterated at home by Central Florida 51-23, and that game was rain shortened just before the end of the third quarter.
Central Florida scored on all eight of their drives with seven ending in touchdowns.
It was one of many games where the Bearcats defense was decimated by a high-octane offense in the American Athletic Conference.
Fast forward just over a year and the Bearcats much-improved defense has been the backbone of their 9-1 record.
The Bearcats are also now getting national exposure as they play for a potential conference championship in Fickell’s second season as head coach.
“I don’t enjoy it as much because I don’t get to sit back and think about it,” Fickell said. “But I don’t want to neglect to attempt to celebrate the positives and celebrate with the players and celebrate its as a team, those kinds of things. I don’t think as a group in this room we didn’t believe that we had a chance and potential to continue grow and put us in a position to have a chance for play a championship.
“Their ability to go play on a stage like this in a game like this that means as much as it does; yeah it makes you nervous because it’s big stage but this is what you wish for.”
Saturday’s game will get underway at 8 p.m. on ABC with College Gameday getting underway at 9 a.m. on ESPN.