UCF will travel for a road game for the first time in the 2021 season Friday night with a chance for first-year Knights coach Gus Malzahn to impress voters in the polls and college football fans across the country in a spotlight game at Louisville. The Knights are 2-0 after a dramatic comeback win against Boise State in the opener and a routine 63-14 victory against Bethune-Cookman in Week 2. This is the first time UCF will have played away from home this season and it comes against the lone Power Five opponent on the team's regular-season schedule.
But while UCF may be looking for legitimacy as a top team, Louisville has to view this as a chance to get right. The Cardinals started the year in a 26-0 halftime hole against Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game before the offense finally got going in a 43-24 loss. There were far more encouraging headlines from last week's win against Eastern Kentucky, including star defensive back Kei'Trel Clark pulling down two interceptions and a breakout game from freshman wide receiver Ahmari Huggins-Bruce. Still, the Cards are eyeing this winnable game against a high-level opponent as a way to build some confidence with ACC play beginning next week at Florida State.
This is the third meeting all-time between the two programs who shared conference affiliation — and competed for a conference championship — for a single season in the AAC back in 2013. The Knights won that game 38-35 en route to a Fiesta Bowl victory.
Louisville vs. UCF: Need to know
Compact start for Louisville: The Cardinals are facing one of the tightest possible windows for their first three games. That's been a test that Scott Satterfield and his staff have tried to prepare for all through fall camp. All in all, it's going to be three games in 12 days, with two of those games coming against opponents that are favored to win. It's a long season with plenty of opportunities to stack up wins in ACC play, but to exit this 12-day grind with only a 30-3 win against Eastern Kentucky would be disappointing.
UCF QB Dillon Gabriel in midseason form: After leading the country in passing yards per game in 2020, Dillon Gabriel has shown no signs of slowing down even after the coaching transition to Malzahn from Josh Heupel. Through two games, Gabriel is averaging 315 passing yards per game, and ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing touchdowns, points responsible for, and total offense. Louisville's defense had trouble slowing down Ole Miss' Matt Corral, another one of the top quarterbacks in the country, so the Cardinals must limit Gabriel to pull off the win on Friday night.
A win should propel UCF into the top 25: The Knights finished just outside the AP Top 25 and Coaches poll following Week 2. After starting the year outside the top 30 in both sets of rankings, the hard-fought win against Boise State has positioned UCF to join Cincinnati in the national rankings and give the American Athletic Conference two viable candidates for the New Year's Six. While Louisville's eventual form is yet to be determined in this early part of the season, this still would qualify as a quality win by going on the road on a short week into a hostile Power Five environment like Cardinal stadium.
How to watch Louisville vs. UCF live
Date: Friday, Sept. 17 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Cardinal Stadium -- Louisville, Kentucky
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Louisville vs. UCF prediction, picks
While much time has been spent discussing Gabriel and the ways he can beat teams with his arm and legs, there's been a real boost from Northwestern transfer Isaiah Bowser. The 6-1, 225-pound running back is averaging 115 yards per game and tied for second nationally in rushing touchdowns with five scores. He brings a physicality that helps this offense win in short-yardage and goal-to-go downs, providing balance and a complement to the spread concepts that still linger even after the coaching transition. Louisville's defense had some trouble with Ole Miss early on, and that tape will provide some opportunities for Gus and UCF to find enough advantages to get in and out of Cardinal Stadium with a win. Prediction: UCF (-7)
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