No. 11 UCF extended its nation’s best winning streak to 23 games Saturday night, crushing No. 24 Cincinnati 38-13. The Knights got off to a shaky start in the game as McKenzie Milton fumbled in the end zone on UCF’s first play and Cincinnati recovered it for a touchdown. Cincinnati would then add a couple more scoring chances in the first quarter but missed two field goals, and then UCF’s natural ability and speed took over.
Milton finished the night with 268 yards passing and three touchdowns as the Knights didn’t have their typical offensive performance. Cincinnati’s defense deserves some credit for holding a Knights offense that had been averaging 543 yards per game to only 402 yards, but that’s all UCF needed. It was the defense that led the way, forcing three turnovers and holding Cincinnati to 4.7 yards per play.
The win clinched the AAC East for the Knights, which won their 23rd straight game dating back to the 2017 season, but we all know that’s not this team’s ultimate goal. Here are three takeaways from this latest Knights victory.
1. UCF is the best team in the Group of Five: Not exactly a surprise, but Saturday night was just another reminder of the gap that exists between the Knights and the rest of the AAC and the other Group of Five conferences. Remember, this was a Cincinnati team that came into the game with a 9-1 record — a Cincinnati team that we felt was the clear-cut choice as the No. 3 team in the Group of Five earlier this week — and UCF just demolished them.
This game didn’t even feel competitive for longer than five minutes. The Knights weren’t just more talented, they were stronger and faster as well. And that’s the case most weeks when it comes to this UCF team. There’s a reason it’s won 23 straight games, and it’s because it’s a very good team. A team good enough to warrant a College Football Playoff berth? Well, that’s not my call. I’m not optimistic this team would be able to beat any of the teams currently in the top four, but you know what? I’m not sure how many teams could, so that shouldn’t be the lone knock against this UCF team.
2. The UCF defensive line was the most impressive unit on the field: I have been skeptical of this UCF defense all season long. It’s a unit that’s allowing fewer points per game this season than it did last year, but when I watched it, I just wasn’t as impressed with it as I was last year. Saturday night was the first night I felt good about it, however, as the UCF defensive line dominated the Cincinnati offensive line all night long. They were disruptive, plugging gaps, getting in the backfield and getting after the quarterback. Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder spent a lot of his night running away from pressure. The Knights finished with three sacks and seven tackles for loss, with the defensive line doing most of the work. Trysten Hill had all three of the sacks and four tackles for loss on his own. The Knights defense also added four quarterback hits.
3. OK, so we have to talk about the CFP: I said earlier that it wasn’t my call, and it’s not. Still, we do have to talk about it because when it comes to UCF, that’s the biggest question surrounding this program. I think it’s pretty clear that, based on where the Knights have been ranked all season long despite being undefeated, they won’t be getting into the CFP no matter what happens. Crushing a top 25 team will likely be enough to get the Knights into the top 10 when you combine it with West Virginia’s loss and Ohio State’s lethargical play, but that’s probably the best the Knights can expect. If UCF isn’t in the top 10, then the CFP Selection Committee might as well just stop ranking Group of Five teams altogether.
You can say that it isn’t fair or right all you want, and I understand everything you mean, but it’s just the reality of the situation. Maybe if they win 39 straight? Nah, probably not.
CBS Sports was with you the entire night updating this story with the latest highlights and analysis from the game. Check it out below.
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