Normally, a game this early in the year isn't construed as a season defining moment but today's matchup against Southern Miss can very well determine the way UCF's season goes.
Coaches usually laugh at the notion that a game early in the season can make or break a team, or at least they do when talking to the media. Most writers are criticized for being too psychological and perhaps sometimes they are, but there's no question that the Knights know that this C-USA opener is one of the most important games they'll play this season.
"Alright, obviously a very important game coming up," said UCF head coach, George O'Leary "First conference game vs. Southern Miss at their place. As I told our football team, every game is important. When you get to conference play you to go out and make sure you get done what needs to be done."
It's reassuring to know that the Knights are bracing themselves for a tough matchup in Hattiesburg and you'd expect a veteran coach like O'Leary to acknowledge the importance of this game. However, the matchup against the Golden Eagles isn't significant because it's a conference game, but because it could very well determine the direction the team goes this season.
Why is so much at stake in one game in September? Obviously there's the conference factor but more importantly there's the team's psyche to account for. The Knights are a young squad compromised primarily of underclassmen. With a group of players learning how to win, going on the road against a dynamic squad like Southern Miss is crucial to the team's development. That's no to say that a loss guarantees the team a losing season, but a road win could give the Knights the momentum they never quite mustered up last season.
For those who don't believe in one game defining a season, take a look at last year when the Knights fell just short to South Florida. The Knights were so hyped and invested in upsetting the in-state rivals that once they lost in overtime, they fell down a slippery slope, losing seven of their next eight games.
"I think if we went back and took a couple of games back, our season [would've been] completely different," said UCF senior defensive tackle, Travis Timmons.
Along with creating good will and confidence to build off of, UCF's performance this week will also have an impact on the fan base. A good majority of UCF fans are already disgruntled with the team's inconsistency under George O'Leary and a lackluster performance against Samford last week has invoked even more ill-will from the fans. If the Knights do not show up against Southern Miss, next week's game against Buffalo could be filled by more boo-birds than fans. That being said, if the team plays the role of underdog to perfection and pulls off the upset, then fans will be ready and roaring to go next week against Buffalo. And for a team like the Bulls, a home field advantage could make a big difference.
Following Southern Miss, the Knights host defending MAC champions, Buffalo, then they travel to ECU, the defending C-USA champions. With a difficult September ahead, the Knights must establish their identity now, especially on offense, in order to not start this season off on the wrong foot.
With so much potentially invested in one game, it will be very interesting to see how the Knights respond.
Season Defining Game for Knights?
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