Our series continues today with UCF, a conference newcomer that looks ready-made to challenge for the top spot in 2013.
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Most important game: Oct. 18 at Louisville
Why: Kudos to the Knights for scheduling aggressively in 2013. They go to Penn State on Sept. 14 to take on George O'Leary protege Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions, then come out of the ensuing bye to face Heisman Trophy contender Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina. O'Leary has said that the goal is to win the conference crown in the program's first year stepping up in competition, and this slate will only help prepare his players for Big East play.
UCF avoids Cincinnati, another conference heavyweight, and will get its biggest Big East test early in the conference schedule: in a Friday game against the Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The conference and these projected contenders will have a big chunk of the college football stage to themselves, and the Knights will have a great opportunity to make a statement to the rest of their new conference brethren.
What's more, the only opponents of note that Louisville will have faced by then are rival Kentucky (Sept. 14 in Lexington) and Rutgers a week earlier. UCF will have taken on Big Ten and SEC opponents, including the best defensive player in the country in Clowney.
If UCF can handle perhaps the best offensive player in the country in Teddy Bridgewater, the Knights will have cleared their lone major hurdle in conference play, knocking one team out of the national title hunt, likely knocking one player out of the Heisman running and validating O'Leary's faith in a group that he feels is ready to contend from Day 1 in its new terrain.