Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer -- For the second straight week, Texas faces a program whose highly-anticipated matchup with the Horns has been a red letter date on its calendar since the game was announced a couple of years ago. Whereas TCU was hoping (expecting, actually) that an upset of highly-ranked Texas would rubberstamp its program as BCS-worthy, host Central Florida looks to Saturday's matchup as its coming-out party. It's the first on-campus game in program history, it's a sellout, and coach George O'Leary's bunch is being treated to a rare nationally televised contest (ESPN2). But are these Knights ready for prime time?
TB Kevin Smith's 217 yards against North Carolina State was a career-best that won't be duplicated Saturday. If Smith rushes "30 to 40 times" as Mack Brown predicted, then Texas can name the score. It plays right into Texas' strength. Horn fans would love to see Central Florida try to force the run against the likes of Frank Okam, Derek Lokey, Roy Miller plus a group of linebackers coming off their best outing in 15 games. The Texas defense has yielded just one TD all season, and that was only after SLB Robert Killebrew's personal foul kept alive a late Arkansas State drive. Meanwhile, UCF started two true freshmen and a RS-freshman at linebacker in their season opener. They return four starting DBs from one of the nation's worst pass defenses in 2006.
Mack Brown's bunch loves to play on the road, and evidence of that is 29 wins in the last 31 true road games. Longhorn upperclassmen have been to Disneyland twice (during consecutive Rose Bowls), so their venture to Orlando is strictly a 'business trip', players have said. Texas' running game remains suspect but, this Saturday, the D will see to it that -- for the locals -- Disneyworld remains the happiest place in Orlando.
And last time I checked, Duante Culpepper has already completed eligibility at Central Florida. Texas 38, Central Florida 9.
Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas magazine editor -- They are calling this game "historic" in Orlando.
No doubt you've heard, from multiple sources: the University of Central Florida Knights will be opening the brand new Bright House Networks Stadium Saturday. They'll be hosting the Texas Longhorns, the highest-ranked opponent in the school's history. It's a sellout, of course, and the Knights and their fans have been waiting for this game for forever.
There are certainly some fairly logical reasons to think the Knights can play Texas within the 20-point Las Vegas point spread. They have a talented running back in Kevin Smith, who's 6-1, weighs 211 pounds and dropped 217 yards on the North Carolina State Wolfpack team in a season-opening 25-23 win.
They have a coach in George O'Leary who was good enough for Notre Dame to hire, though a blown-out-of-proportion resume inaccuracy annulled that marriage. They have a defense that held North Carolina State to a paltry 85 yards rushing.
Unfortunately for Central Florida, there are many more reasons that Texas will dominate Saturday's game.
Yes, the Knights gave up just 85 yards on the ground, but they also gave up 272 yards through the air against the Wolfpack. Question: How will the Knights cover the Texas wide receivers on Saturday? Answer: They won't.
There is also another extremely ominous sign for the Knights from the early-season results. UCF scored all of its points against North Carolina State in the first half, then held on to win. The Longhorns, on the other hand, played their best football in the second half against TCU.
Look for the Knights to be respectable in the first half, running the ball and running the clock and doing everything they can do to shorten the game. But in the second half, in the heat, the team with by far the most depth, Texas, will gain ultimate control of the line of scrimmage.
Take the Horns and give the points. Texas 49, Central Florida 14.
Michael Pearle, Co-publisher -- It was encouraging to see Texas finally dominate an opponent on the football field, even if it was for only one half last Saturday.
But what a half it was. After opening the game with the same offensive confusion we've seen all too much of from Texas recently, in the second half Colt McCoy again looked like 2006's wunderkind, throwing TD passes and scrambling from the pocket for long gains. Jamaal Charles morphed into a Cedric Benson-style workhorse, continually pounding at the TCU defense into the fourth quarter until it finally broke, allowing Charles to slice off a crushing 39-yard touchdown run to ice the game. The offensive line, particularly Tony Hills, did a good job keeping TCU's vaunted defensive ends off of McCoy and opening lanes for Charles. And the defense basically shut the TCU offense down, allowing only a couple of field goals all night. The goal line stand at the end of the first half led by hard-charging Rashad Bobino was gritty, and may have saved the game, keeping the lead at a manageable 10 points.
Welcome back, Horns, we've missed ya. Care to stick around for a couple of weeks?
I think that Texas team is going to show up for at least one more week. Given a virtually unheard of trip to the state of Florida to face a team with a name coach, if not a name program, to open a brand new stadium, I think you'll see a UT team Saturday that plays excited, pumped-up football. This is like a bowl game in September, complete with Disney World and Epcot Center. And given Central Florida's nice win over NC State to start the season, the Horns will not take this team lightly. As they shouldn't. With a 6-1, 211-pound back who leads the nation in yards-per-game rushing and who put up over 217 yards against the Wolfpack, the Horn defensive front will be tested. And Colt McCoy will face an experienced secondary, so he'll need to be careful with the football.
My buddy Dave Corso, the son of ESPN's Lee Corso and a UT grad, lives in Orlando, and called to tell me this week that the buzz around town is that UCF is primed for the upset. Dave wasn't buying it, and I'm not either. Not even the drug bust of yet another Longhorn player will shake the Horns' focus this Saturday. Texas 31, Central Florida 14.
Clendon Ross, Co-publisher – This is a tough one to pick because of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Horns over the first eight quarters of the season. The Texas team that played the final two quarters vs. TCU is a team capable of going to Orlando and blowing out Central Florida, stadium-opening crowd be damned. The Texas team that played the first six quarters of the season is capable of losing to the Golden Knights, and just about anyone on the schedule aside from Rice.
The team we saw in the second half vs. the Horned Frogs, though, more resembles what we expected from this Longhorn squad (given its talent level), and those two quarters are the most recent ones this team has played, which should give them more weight in projecting forward, so I'm inclined to believe that we will see that Burnt Orange team in Bright House Networks Stadium Saturday.
But this game could still be a challenge. It's the first venture onto unfriendly turf for this year's Horns, which could test this team's chemistry and leadership if there's early adversity. In the Knights' opening win at North Carolina State, running back Kevin Smith busted an 80-yard TD run on Central Florida's first offensive play, and he's a legitimate threat – maybe the only real offensive threat for the Knights – to a Longhorn defense that still must prove that it can consistently play at the emotional and physical level it played at versus a mediocre at best TCU offensive attack. A similar, early burst from Smith would electrify an already energized environment for the home team. Even if that happens, I suspect that the Horns will wear down Central Florida on both sides of the ball as the game goes on, much like they did last week with TCU. Which means another close first half, another 100-yard game from Jamaal Charles (mostly after the break), and another second half shutout for a Longhorn D that proves last week's performance was the new norm, not a one-week aberration. Texas 42, Central Florida 10.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 44, Central Florida 12.