Our fourth game of the season takes us on the road to Orlando, FL to take on the UCF Knights. UCF is formerly of Conference USA and is joining the new American Athletic Conference this fall. The AAC is comprised of some of the remnants of the Big East. George O'Leary's team had a decent season last year, finishing 10-4 in Conference USA with a win in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl over Ball St. They finished with an FEI Outsiders ranking of 35. Their biggest strength was an efficient offense that finished 25th in the nation in points scored, while their defense was more of a liability, giving up over five yards per play.
The Knights return enough offensive talent to be considered a reasonable threat to put some points up against Carolina's defense. QB Blake Bortles, who finished with a +140 passer rating last year, is back, as are many of his weapons, including experienced receivers, runningbacks, and offensive linemen. Of course, UCF's offensive numbers were partially built off of shootouts against lesser competition last year. They scored less than 20 in games against Ohio St. and Mizzou, so they will have to prove that their offense is up to the task of scoring points on an elite-level defense when they play us.
UCF's liability last year was its defense, and that could be even more true this year, as the Knights lost several important contributors. They're looking at potentially starting a couple of freshmen in the secondary. They lose players up front, too, including two linebackers who combined for 190 tackles and an all-conference DE. For an AAC team, there's a solid amount of talent on this defensive roster, but much of it is inexperienced, and inexperienced AAC talent against an SEC offense doesn't bode well for UCF.
Overall, this is an intriguing matchup because the road atmosphere offers a challenge to USC. UCF actually creates a reasonably intimidating venue, and their fans will be pumped up for what will likely be one of the most highly regarded visitors to UCF in its history. However, we're the more talented team by a large margin. The key will be coming out and playing like it early and taking the crowd out of the game. If we let UCF hang around, though, they have the offense and crowd support to make things interesting late.