When the Knights kick off against Georgia in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31, they won’t only have to contend with a longtime football powerhouse, they’ll have to stop a curse that’s haunted them for more than a decade: the national Top 25 rankings.
In more than 20 attempts, UCF football has never defeated a ranked team. And since becoming a ranked team this season, the Knights had a new element of the curse to contend with: They’ve never won as a ranked team. They lost on Nov. 13 to Southern Miss, immediately falling out of the Top 25.
They needed to beat three teams in a row, including winning the Conference USA Championship, to make it back into three of four national rankings.
Now ranked at No. 24/25 (depending on the poll), they’re poised to try to beat the curse again. The only problem: They’re facing the Georgia Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs have had a middling season compared to the last 10 years. Despite only going 6-6 so far, they’ve managed to finish third in the East Division of the SEC, one of the toughest conferences in college football.
Even worse for the Knights, the Bulldogs averaged 246 yards per game in the air this season. If the Knights have an Achilles’ heel, it’s giving up big passing plays. The defensive secondary tends to keep pace with receivers, but has had trouble knocking the ball down.
When the Knights’ pass defense does get its hands on the ball, look out. They’ve proven capable of returning interceptions for big scores.
A lopsided Georgia offense has frequently relied on passing to get downfield. The Knights’ big advantage will be in an evenly matched offense that spreads the ball around, led by quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who can make big rushing gains off botched passing plays.
Godfrey will have to avoid what happened against Southern Miss, when the Golden Eagles boxed him in, preventing him from racing downfield when his receivers had heavy coverage.
That type of coverage could put a lot of pressure on UCF’s offensive line, which has struggled this season to protect Godfrey against tough defenses. If the offensive line can block effectively, it could make a big difference in UCF’s chances for victory.
On defense, this will be NFL recruit Bruce Miller’s last stand. He’ll be key in holding back Georgia’s rushing yardage.
The Knights face the Georgia Bulldogs in the Liberty Bowl on Friday, Dec. 31 in Memphis. Watch it on ESPN at 3:30 p.m.