Even with several teams ranked ahead of them losing, the Knights remained at No. 10 in this week’s polling as they take their 19-game winning streak — the nation’s longest — into Saturday’s American Athletic Conference clash at East Carolina.
Kickoff at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C., is 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
If their fans are upset by the perceived snub among media voters, the Knights (6-0, 3-0 AAC) don’t seem to be all that bothered. Coach Josh Heupel is preaching patience.
“I really still do believe at the end of the year that they’re going to look at who we played, how we played, gone undefeated if you run the table and then that will take care of itself,” Heupel said in an Orlando Sentinel report. “At the end of the day, we’re a long ways away from that conversation inside of our team, inside of our building.”
Quarterback McKenzie Milton backed up his coach’s contention that the polls don’t mean much at this time of year.
“Rankings are rankings and it’s been like that since last year,” Milton said. “So it is what it is, and we’re just going to go out and keep winning games and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Still, four top 10 teams lost last weekend with No. 2 Georgia losing at LSU, No. 6 West Virginia falling at Iowa State, No. 7 Washington losing in overtime to Oregon, and No. 8 Penn State losing to Michigan State. In addition, No. 5 Notre Dame was hard-pressed to get by Pittsburgh, a team that UCF pounded 45-14, by five points.
Georgia moved down to No. 8 while the Mountaineers, Huskies and Nittany Lions dropped out of the Top 10, but jumping ahead of the Knights were No. 5 LSU (up from 13, No. 7 Michigan (up from 13), and No. 9 Oklahoma (up from 11). The Irish slid into the No. 4 spot.
Apparently, the close call the Knights had with Memphis when they rallied from a 16-point deficit to a 31-30 victory wasn’t impressive enough.
But Milton had a slightly different twist on it.
“The way our team didn’t point fingers at each other but stuck together was huge testament to what kind of guys we have in that locker room and the kind of leaders we have,” he said. “I think it’s huge to win games like that. Hopefully, we won’t be in too many of them.”
East Carolina coach Scottie Montgomery believes the Knights belong in the Top 5.
“They have definitely done what they are supposed to do to get themselves ranked so high, and they probably should be ranked a lot higher,” he said. “They are led by one of the best players in college football in McKenzie Milton.
“Defensively, they have done a great job of utilizing their speed on the back end to match their physicality on the front. They are a really good football team, and we will have to be ready to go.”
Montgomery’s Pirates (2-4, 0-3 AAC) have dropped their last two games, 49-6 to Temple and 42-20 to Houston, but Montgomery was encouraged by what he saw in the loss to the Cougars.
He also plans to unleash quarterback Holton Ahlers, who guided the Panthers to a pair of late touchdowns.
“With Holton, we all have to realize that there will be some bad plays in there but also some really good ones,” Montgomery said. “We will have to work through it, as he is a true freshman starting at quarterback. I am looking forward to him playing a lot.
“We could see some other guys in there depending on where we are in the game but I really want to give him an opportunity to build on his performance over the weekend.”