Can UCF Cover 16.5 Points vs Navy this Weekend?
Head Coach Gus Malzahn and the UCF Knights have seen mixed results early this season. They mounted a second-half comeback against the Boise State Broncos in their first game. Unsurprisingly, they dominated Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in an early-season tune-up game. UCF then lost a competitive game against the Louisville Cardinals, ending their hopes for another undefeated season.
The Navy Midshipmen and Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo have struggled early in the 2021 season. They lost by 42 to the Marshall Thundering Herd in their opener which was followed by a 20 point loss to the Air Force Falcons. Navy righted the ship slightly slate week, losing by only 8 points to the Houston Cougars, continuing their winless season in 2021.
UCF holds the edge in virtually every category in this game. They’ll easily improve to 3-1 in this game, but can they cover over a two-touchdown spread?
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Central Florida hasn’t performed well against the spread (ATS) this season. Through 3 games, they own a 1-2 ATS record. They’re winning their games by an average of 15.7 points, although they’ve recorded a -3.8 ATS +/- this season. Their only road game came in the form of a loss to Louisville, where UCF was a sizeable favorite.
Navy hasn’t been successful either, though. They also possess a 1-2 ATS record in 2021. They’re losing their games by an average of 23.3 points to go along with a -13.5 ATS +/-. Navy’s also recorded a 0-2 home ATS record in 2021, losing their games by an average of 31 points. These sample sizes are extremely limited, though, so take them with a grain of salt.
Navy’s a unique offense, as they are one of very few teams to run an option-based offense. They rank third in the NCAA in rushing attempts (54.7) per game, even with an 0-3 record. They rank 36th in rushing yards (191.7) per game, though. More importantly, Navy ranks 88th in the NCAA, recording only 3.5 yards per carry this season.
One major key for the MIdshipmen is that their consistent rushing attempts generally allows them easier opportunities on fourth down than others see. They rank third in the NCAA in fourth-down conversions (2.3) per game this season. UCF will need to slow down Navy’s rushing totals on early downs to force them into short positions, as they’ll try to shorten this game as much as possible.
UCF features one of the better run defenses in the NCAA early this season. They entered 2021 with Phil Steele’s 35th best defensive line in the country. That’s been backed in their first 3 games, ranking 25th in rushing yards allowed (105.5) per game and 36th in yards per carry allowed (3.3) this season.
Central Florida struggled to defend the run in their last matchup against Louisville, although Malik Cunningham’s success came in a different way than Navy will look to use in this game. The Knights held Andrew Van Buren and Cyrus Habibi-Likio to only 49 yards on 22 attempts in their matchup against Boise State.
I expect to see two different levels in this game. UCF’s defensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage with their size and strength. I also expect the Knights to be disciplined enough to handle the option. If they aren’t, though, I fully expect their athleticism to make up for any mental mistakes in this game.
UCF’s known for their big-play ability, and that hasn’t changed this season. They rank 27th in the NCAA in 20+ yard plays, even though they’ve only played 3 games. Overall, they’re averaging 7.7 20+ yard plays per game, which would rank second in the NCAA if they played 5 games.
Navy’s struggled a bit in 2021, allowing 5.4 yards per play on the season. They also rank 107th in the NCAA, allowing .51 points per play in 2021.
With Navy’s offense focused around running the ball, UCF is going to need to score fast on big plays throughout this game to cover such a wide spread. They’re proven early on that they boast plenty of explosion in their offense, and that should continue against a relatively weak Navy defense.
The key to covering this spread will be whoever finds more early success. Central Florida hasn’t been a great first-quarter team, averaging only 3.5 first-quarter points per game in 2021. With that being said, they’re averaging 14 first-half points per game this season.
Luckily, Navy’s struggled early in their games this season, as well. They’re averaging only 2.3 points in the first quarter and 6.7 points in the first half of their games.
If UCF gets an early lead, I don’t expect Navy to completely abandon the run, as they didn’t in their matchup against Marshall. I do believe once the momentum is with UCF early in the game, they won’t have a problem scoring whenever they please in this game, though.
I’m taking advantage of a matchup between two Division I schools, which have significantly different programs. UCF is being slightly disrespected after a reasonable loss to Louisville, as Navy isn’t near the same level as those schools.
The Knights still feature one of the best non-Power 5 programs in the country, and they should be looking to get back on track tonight. Although the spread’s wide, I believe it should be set closer to 3 touchdowns than 2, giving us an edge on PointsBet this weekend.
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