Last Updated: 2018-12-10
Introducing The Real National Champions — The UCF Knights! The Knights haven’t lost a game since the 2016 Cure Bowl against Arkansas St and Knights fans consider themselves the best team in the nation.
The opposing side of that argument, that UCF is the undefeated National Champion, would be that they benefited from a Peach Bowl opponent in 2017 that just didn’t care. Auburn was coming off a disappointing loss in the SEC Championship and it could be argued that they just weren’t motivated to play in the Peach Bowl, thus UCF didn’t “really” beat an SEC foe. So, which will it be this year? Will UCF continue to dominate the opposition, will they benefit from another un-motivated SEC opponent? Or will LSU step up and put an end to the myth of the UCF National Champions?
The line for this bowl opened at LSU -8 with a total of 54.5. That spread has ticked down to -7.5 but, that is essentially a move from one dead number to another. The total has ticked up a point to 55.5.
This kind of match-up is where schedule de-construction becomes paramount. The classic match-up of a dominant Group of 5 team that has played ‘nobody’ versus a traditional Power 5 team that played a ‘tough SEC schedule’.
How did these two teams perform, versus expectations, against their respective schedules?
The shock here is that these numbers actually point to UCF! Each teams average points per game and their average points allowed combined with how they were expected to perform against their opponents (UCF scored 11.5 more points than could be expected given their schedule and allowed almost 7 points less than could be expected) means UCF should be favoured by 9 points. This seems shocking.
Yards Per Play
What is even more shocking is that the yards per play metric actually backs up the relative performance!
Based on how many yards UCF averages per play, on offense and defense, they should actually be favoured by 7 points. This is almost exactly the same as the relative performance. Of course, this metric can possibly be attributed to the strength of each teams competition. LSU obviously played a tougher schedule (it’s maybe a tired argument but, no website will rank these two schedules closely).
Offense vs Defense
The common college football narrative is that the SEC brings unparalleled defense. Well, one way that UCF won’t be challenged is in playing an LSU team that gives up red zone scores 86% of the time. UCF is competitive, or even, better than LSU in all four efficiency stats presented below.
UCF scoring in the red zone 92% of the time and LSU allowing its opponents to score 86% of the time is certainly not a good combo.
If you dig into some of the less traditional stats, the picture doesn’t become any clearer for LSU.
Other than getting in behind the line of scrimmage a little more, LSU doesn’t do anything really better than UCF. UCF can stop their opponents just as well, they allow even less points per drive and their offensive explosiveness is much, much better.
Scott Frost isn’t in Florida anymore. How much will that matter? UCF will be missing electric QB Mckenzie Milton. How much will that matter? How often can UCF continue to play the David versus Goliath card?
LSU’s head coach is supposedly famous because he is a master motivator. Can he motivated an LSU team to carry the SEC flag against the upstart Group of 5 team?
It’s quite possible LSU will be able to end ‘The Streak’ but, that doesn’t mean they have to cover the game. Both teams should be uber motivated for this bowl despite it not being a semi-final and UCF still has much to prove. LSU, on the other hand, has the SEC’s honour to defend. A full touchdown is too much to give UCF, even with their QB injury. LSU can defend the SEC and not win by a touchdown.
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