CINCINNATI (AP) — The biggest game in UCF’s two-year turnaround ended in an unexpected blowout win. The most surprising part? None of the Knights seemed all that surprised.
Two years after they failed to win a game, the Knights (3-0 , 1-0 American Athletic) are back in the Top 25 and off to their best start since 2013. They moved into the rankings at No. 25 after a 38-10 win at Maryland and a 40-13 victory over Memphis , one of the preseason favorites in the AAC.
“They weren’t shocked that they did what they did in Maryland,” second-year coach Scott Frost said. “And they weren’t shocked by what happened on Saturday. They weren’t shocked; they were happy. This team expected to win those games.
“Boy, that’s a fast turnaround from where we were to this point, where they expect to beat some really good teams.”
They’ll try to keep climbing Saturday night on the road against a team that’s really struggling. Cincinnati (2-3, 0-1) is coming off a home loss to Marshall that showed they’ve got a long way to go under first-year coach Luke Fickell.
“That’s the situation we’re in now,” Fickell said. “We’re trying to find ways to create momentum and generate energy. And right now, it’s very difficult on Saturdays.”
A victory over a ranked team would give the Bearcats a starting point. The following week, they play at No. 18 South Florida, getting the conference’s two best teams back-to-back. So, there’s extra motivation for Cincinnati.
“Success is going to lead to people playing up when they play us,” Frost said, “but we’re only three games into this thing right now. We’ve got to go prove ourselves again.”
A fast start on the road would help, and the Bearcats have shown a propensity for letting opponents take control early. They’ve been outscored 42-17 in the first quarter, forcing them to play from behind. They turned the ball over on the second play of the game, helping Marshall take control on its way to a 38-21 victory.
“At some point in time, we say: How do we create some positive energy and not always play off the negative energy?'” Fickell said. “It’s draining. It’s some difficult stuff.”
The Knights don’t have that problem.
“Everyone is hungry, so every practice we’re just full of energy,” running back Adrian Killins Jr. said. “So the next opponent, I feel sorry for them because this team is out for revenge.”
Some things to watch Saturday at Nippert Stadium:
RUNNING AWAY: Killins had an 87-yard touchdown run at Michigan last season. Against Memphis, he broke a 96-yard touchdown run, the longest rush in AAC history. He’ll be facing a defense that’s had big problems against the run. Navy rushed for 569 yards in a 42-32 win over the Bearcats. Killins and dual-threat quarterback McKenzie Milton will give them another tough challenge. Milton threw for three touchdowns and ran for 88 yards against Memphis as the Knights piled up 603 yards, including 350 rushing.
TAKE IT AWAY: UCF leads the nation in turnover margin at 2.33 per game. The Knights got four turnovers in their opener against FIU, a pair of interceptions at Maryland, and five takeaways against Memphis. The Bearcats are prone to turnovers — they had three against Marshall that set up 21 points, including that turnover on their second play. “We had about everything that could go wrong, go wrong,” Fickell said.
RARE BALANCE: The Knights have outscored opponents 139-40. They rank in the top 10 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Alabama and Washington are the only other teams in the top 10 in both categories. The Knights have scored at least 38 points each game and given up no more than 17.
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25.