The AAC offers the most high-profile match on Thursday’s slate of college football action, as the Central Florida Knights take on the Connecticut Huskies in Hartford (7 p.m., ESPNU). UCF is a consensus 23-point favorite as of Tuesday afternoon, and the over/under is set at 73.5 points.
Central Florida is fresh off the most successful season in the history of their program, as they went 13-0 and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Yet the self-proclaimed national champions could take a step backward this season.
The Knights lost their best receiver option (Tre’Quan Smith) and best defensive player (Shaquem Griffin) to the NFL along with eight additional starters. Additionally, head coach Scott Frost skipped town after just two seasons in favor of alma mater Nebraska. Josh Heupel, most recently the offensive coordinator at Missouri, steps in for his first ever season as a head coach. UCF will also have a new defensive coordinator in Randy Shannon, who will likely change the scheme to a 4-3.
However, McKenzie Milton is still calling the shots under center for Central Florida, and his club enters the season ranked 23rd in the coaches poll. Milton has a litany of options on offense, including Dredrick Snelson out wide and Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson in the backfield. But even Milton knows his Knights won’t catch anyone by surprise this season.
“We caught some teams off guard in the way we played, the way we won last year,” he told the AP in the offseason. “We’re not going to catch anybody off guard now. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
That includes the UConn Huskies, their intraconference opponent on Thursday night. Their first season in head coach Randy Edsall’s second go-around was a struggle (3-9), but that very young team should improve after last year’s seasoning. It was probably little solace to them, but the Huskies closed out the 2017 season on a 5-2 run ATS (against the spread).
Their offense took a huge step forward after a dismal 2016, climbing into the top 50 in yards per game, per Athlonsports.com. They return a deep core of wide receivers led by senior Hergy Mayala, with fellow senior David Pindell expected to start under center.
Defense was a sore spot in 2017, ranking toward the bottom in the FBS in nearly every meaningful category. The unit will see wholesale personnel changes from a year ago, opening the door for marginal improvement.
UConn likely doesn’t have the talent to beat UCF, even at home, but the 23-point spread currently being offered by oddsmakers is too tantalizing to pass up on. If the Knights hiccup a couple of times as they try to incorporate new players into a new system, that presents the possibility for UConn to keep this game close.
Prediction: UCF wins, 41-21
The play: UConn +23