NCAA Saturday Afternoon Football: Cincinnati/UCF Preview

by Alec McMordie

The Saturday afternoon game at 3:30 PM ET on ESPN features a showdown of American Athletic Conference powers.

Cincinnati has hopes to reach the college football playoffs as they continue their undefeated season. The Bearcats is the seventh-ranked team in the Associated Press poll this week after their 55-13 victory over East Carolina last Saturday as a 27.5-point favorite. Cincinnati is scoring 41.6 points-per-game while averaging 471.9 yards-per-game. They are also holding their opponents to just a 12.4 points-per-game scoring average.

Junior quarterback Desmond Ridder completed 24 of 31 passes for 327 yards with three touchdown passes in the victory over the Pirates. He added another 75 rushing yards on eight carries with another touchdown. Ridder is completing 66.7% of his passes this season for 1483 yards with 14 touchdown passes but also with six interceptions. The dual-threat has added another 469 rushing yards with nine touchdowns on an 8.8 yards-per-carry average.

Fourth-year head coach Luke Fickell has 15 starters back from the team that finished 11-3 last year that included a 38-6 win over Boston College in the Birmingham Bowl. That was the second-straight 11-win season for this program that wants to put themselves in a position to compete against the elite power five opponents in the nation. Winning the American Athletic Conference championship game remains an obstacle after losing to Memphis in the title game last year by a 29-24 score. The Bearcats avenged that loss to the Tigers earlier this season with a 49-10 blowout victory. They also easily won at SMU by a 42-13 score. With games at Temple and Tulsa on deck, this is likely the stiffest test left for Cincinnati to reach the AAC championship game.

Central Florida lost two close games last month to conference rivals with an 8-point loss to Tulsa was followed up by a 50-49 loss at Memphis. The setback to the Golden Hurricane was devastating as they blew an 18-point lead in that game. The Knights have responded with three straight victories where they have averaged 44.3 points-per-game. They defeated Temple at home last Saturday by a 38-13 score as a 28.5-point favorite.

Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel completed 12 of 22 passes against the Owls for 268 yards with two touchdown passes to lead his team to victory. He has thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception in UCF’s three-game winning streak. The southpaw is completing 63.3% of his passes this season with 23 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. After passing for 3653 yards with 29 touchdowns in his freshman campaign, Gabriel leads an offensive attack that is number one in the nation with a 393.6 passing yards-per-game average.

The Knights were second in the nation last year by averaging 540.5 yards-per-game. The fast-tempo offense under third-year head coach Josh Heupel has been even more explosive this season as they are producing 619.1 yards-per-game, which is the best mark in the FBS. Heupel has eight starters back on both sides of the ball from the group that finished 10-3 last year. UCF has been snake bit in close games, with their three losses last year being by just eight combined points.

Cincinnati upset the Knights last year by a 27-24 score as a 3.5-point home underdog. BetAnySports lists the Bearcats as a 4-point road favorite with the over/under set at 65.5.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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