Houston You’ve Got a Problem!
UCF will travel to Houston this weekend looking for their second conference win in as many weeks. Houston started the season on fire and looking to make a serious run at the College Football Playoffs before disappointing losses to Navy and SMU. After a heartbreaking loss to Temple two weeks ago, UCF came from behind last week for a big win at UConn. Here are five reasons why I believe UCF will win their second conference game in a row versus the struggling Cougars.
1) Is the reason Houston is struggling because head coach Tom Herman already has one foot out the door? Pressure for Herman to leave Houston and go to a Power 5 school has been with him and the program since the team’s success on the field last year and their Peach Bowl victory versus Florida State. After helping deliver a national championship to Ohio State as the offensive coordinator in the 2014-15 season, Herman took over a preseason unranked Houston team and led them to a 13-1 record as they finished No. 8 in the final AP poll. Rumors circled about Herman leaving for a bigger program during the offseason, but Herman denied the reports. After starting off strong this season with a big opening weekend victory vs No. 3 Oklahoma and being as high as No. 6 in the AP Poll, expectations were high and despite being a Group of Five school, the College Football Playoffs was a legitimate goal. Losses in two of the last three weeks has not only eliminated their chances of the College Football Playoffs, but they are also out of the AP Top 25. It was a bizarre site to see Houston get dominated by a sub .500 SMU team, which has many people second guessing Herman’s future. With Herman’s mind possibly in other places and the Cougars as a whole struggling, I like Scott Frost and the Knights to take advantage and take care of business.
2) I’ll always take a motivated team versus a team whose season, based on preseason expectations, has gone down the dumpster. UCF (4-3, 2-1 in AAC) has a chance to still capture the AAC east division title. They currently rank third in the east behind Temple and USF. With USF still on the schedule, and being only one game behind Temple, who has four conference games left, the Knights are still very much in contention for the east division title. Based on the preseason expectations of a College Football Playoff berth gone, and their minimal goal of another Peach Bowl appearance in major jeopardy, Houston has to now re-evaluate what they are playing for. They are now fourth in the AAC west with a game coming up against No. 5 Louisville and at division rival Memphis to end the regular season. I’ll take the young-hungry coach with a team that has something to play for versus a team that is trying to figure themselves out mid season.
3) UCF has a true freshman quarterback who had a career-best game last week against UConn. McKenzie Milton threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns last week as he seemed to really flourish in Scott Frost’s offensive system. Around the UCF community, Milton is drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel, in all the right ways. Their frame, running ability, and backyard football-like playing style are all reasons to think Milton has the chance to develop the on-field success Manziel had in his two seasons playing college football. Milton, 18, is only going to get better and Houston’s defense has given up 38.3 points per game in their last three contests. Look for Milton to have another big game as he continues to become a leader for the Knights and becomes more comfortable with coach Frost’s offense.
4) With Scott Frost coming in and all the talk about the offense for the Knights, the success for the defense has gone under the radar. The Knights rank 36th in the nation in yards allowed, 8th in stopping opponents on third down, and 10th in sacks per game with 3.43. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was sacked seven times last week against SMU and lost two fumbles in the process. The Knights have done a great job at getting to the quarterback, especially Shaquem Griffin. The linebacker was featured on last week’s College Gameday talking about overcoming the struggle of wanting to play division one football despite having his left hand amputated when he was four years old. The inspirational linebacker leads the Knights with six sacks and nine tackles for loss. Expect him to be amped for Saturday’s game and to get Ward Jr. on the ground.
5) Last year, UCF got embarrassed by a rolling Houston team 59-10. After that beat down, long-time head coach George O’Leary resigned from the program mid season. O’Leary has been on the record saying he had plans to retire after the season anyway, but the way Houston dismantled the Knights last season made O’Leary walk away from the program earlier then anyone expected. Don’t think the upper-classmen on the team have forgotten about that. UCF will look for revenge this time around. The irony could be two-fold also. Houston’s win prompted O’Leary’s resignation, and a UCF win this weekend could change the narrative of if coach Herman is going to leave to when is coach Herman going to leave.
- Jimmy Calhoun (for more follow @calhounjimmy)