Kent State (0-0) at UCF (0-0), Thursday, 7 p.m. ET (FS1)
Line: UCF by 36 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
Series Record: Tied 2-2
WHAT'S AT STAKE
It is the dawn of a new era at UCF with the young football program jumping from the American Athletic Conference into the Big 12. The journey that included the Knights calling themselves national champions following a 2018 Peach Bowl win over Auburn to complete an undefeated season culminated with the Knights getting that seat at the Power Five table this year. Starting that era with a win feels like a must after all the bravado.
UCF vs. the unknown. The Knights admit they do not know a whole lot about Kent State and what new Golden Flashes coach Kenni Burns plans to run. Burns comes to Kent State after serving as an assistant coach and running backs coach at Minnesota. UCF coach Gus Malzahn said the team is flying in a bit blind also considering the Flashes are replacing several players who transferred, including some who followed former coach Sean Lewis to Colorado.
Considering the Flashes are working in a new quarterback with Michael Alaimo winning the job after a camp battle, expect Kent State to run the ball and try to control the clock. UCF is strong up front with Josh Celiscar and Ricky Barber leading the defensive line. The Knights gave up 157.7 rush yards per game last year, seventh in the AAC.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kent State: LB Khalil Saunders is one of the few returning players on a roster hit hard by transfers. He is a transfer from Purdue who appeared in 10 games last year for Kent State, totaling 55 tackles, five tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He will have the task of chasing down John Rhys Plumlee, speedy running back RJ Harvey and various receivers in the Knights' quick-strike offense.
UCF: QB John Rhys Plumlee set the tone for the Knights last year passing for 2,586 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns against eight interceptions while rushing for an additional 862 yards and 11 touchdowns. That was all in his first year running Gus Malzahn’s offense after transferring from Ole Miss. He said he has a better handle on the offense this year.
FACTS & FIGURES
The Knights are 33-10 all-time in home openers and have won seven straight home openers. ... Kent State has won the last two meetings between the schools but they have not met on the field since 2004 when both teams were in the MAC. ... Kent State has had to fill its roster in the transfer portal, but UCF is also welcoming 18 transfers to the team including three members of their starting offensive line on their two deep — guard Bula Schmidt (Fresno State), center Drake Metcalf (Stanford) and tackle Marcellus Marshall (Kent State).
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll