CFN Preview 2013 - UCF Knights
UCF RB Storm Johnson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - UCF Knights
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By Richard Cirminiello
Tassels in Orlando are being moved from the right side of the mortar board to the left. UCF has graduated from Conference USA.
Head coach: George O'Leary
Tenth year: 60-55
Off. 15, Def. 13, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best UCF Players
1. QB Blake Bortles, Jr.
2. LB Terrance Plummer, Jr.
3. S Clayton Geathers, Jr.
4. RB Storm Johnson, Jr.
5. OT Torrian Wilson, Jr.
6. WR J.J. Worton, Jr.
7. WR Breshad Perriman, Soph.
8. DT E.J. Dunston, Sr.
9. CB Brandon Alexander, Jr.
10. WR Ranell Hall, Jr.
9/7 at FIU
9/14 at Penn State
9/21 OPEN DATE
9/28 South Carolina
10/5 at Memphis
10/12 OPEN DATE
10/18 at Louisville
11/2 OPEN DATE
11/16 at Temple
12/7 at SMU
Not long after moving from the MAC to Conference USA in 2005, the Knights dreamt of membership in an even bigger league that would match its aspirations and first-rate facilities. The program bided its time, won two of four league championship game appearances and established a reputation for success as a mid-tier program. The circumstances have been far less than ideal, but the Big East finally extended an offer at the end of 2011.
UCF is set to begin life as a member of the American Athletic Conference, the now watered-down and rebranded Big East Conference. Yeah, the Knights are in a better place, with a chance for more exposure, but their new home has suffered foundational damage from realignment. The automatic BCS bowl berth that comes with winning the league has just a one-year expiration date.
Head coach George O'Leary has now been in charge of the Knights for a decade. His teams have won at least 10 games three times in the last six years, including last season. UCF copped the East Division, and closed out the year with a Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl rout of Ball State.
Under O'Leary, UCF has typically used a surly defense to help overcome the deficiencies of the offense. This season, however, the Knights are undergoing a noticeable personality change. The offense will challenge to become the AAC's best, while the defense adapts to life without many of last season's top performers.
Blake Bortles is well on his way to becoming the most polished quarterback in program history, a next-level talent who has only just begun to tantalize scouts. The supporting cast is surging ahead, with RB Storm Johnson and WR Breshad Perriman, in particular, poised for breakout years. The defense won't be bad. Never is. It's just less likely to spearhead victories this season.
UCF's call up to the bigs hasn't exactly gone as planned. The Big East isn't the Big East in more ways than one. Still, the Knights are excited for a fresh start in a new environment that'll offer more opportunities than Conference USA had in the past. They're also eager to forge new rivals, expand their geographic footprint and, heck, even get a crack at playing in a BCS bowl game.
What to watch for on offense: Less restrictions for the passing attack. Traditionally speaking, the Knights usually run the ball to set up the pass, a conservative blueprint for success. This fall, however, UCF plans to play to its strength, allowing QB Blake Bortles to maximize the speed, depth and raw talent of his receiver corps. The Knights are going to challenge Louisville for the best collection of pass-catchers in the AAC, attacking defenses with an eclectic mix of J.J. Worton, Breshad Perriman, Ranell Hall, Jeff Godfrey and TE Justin Tukes.
What to watch for on defense: The linebackers are going to go rogue. The staff, as much as possible, will allow its athletic linebackers to roam the field and freelance in an effort to maximize their abundant speed. The Knights aren't very big, but they're safety-like frames mean that covering ground doesn't take much time. On the inside, Terrance Plummer is a budding star. On the outside, Troy Gray, Willie Mitchell and Michael Easton will fly around the field, impacting opposing quarterbacks as both blitzers and pass defenders.
The team will be far better if … the young defenders don't play so young. UCF is undergoing some turnover on D, resulting in a two-deep that's dotted with underclassmen. The secondary will be especially unproven now that CB A.J. Bouye and FS Kemal Ishmael have graduated. S Clayton Geathers and CB Brandon Alexander are reliable mainstays. But it'll be incumbent upon the unproven kids, such as Jeremy Davis, Jacoby Glenn and Drico Johnson to make quarterbacks pay for picking on them.
The Schedule: Life as a Big Easter shouldn't be that bad early on with Akron and a trip south to FIU not a bad way to kick things off, but it'll get rough for a bit with a date at Penn State and a home game against South Carolina. There's a week off between the two big non-conference games, but the Knights have to go on the road for four games in five with a nasty trip to Louisville coming on a Friday night coming after a week off. Fortunately, four home games in the next five are in Orlando before closing out at SMU.
Best offensive Player: Junior QB Blake Bortles. In just one season, Bortles went from a veritable unknown to one of budding young stars among quarterbacks. It's because of that overnight evolution that the Knights can't wait to see what the junior will accomplish in Year 2 as a starter. The strong-armed 6-4, 227-pounder went 251-of-399 for 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Testament to his myriad skill set, he also ran for 285 yards and eight more scores. Bortles is smart and efficient with his decisions, finishing 2012 with a UCF-record 174 consecutive passes without an interception.
Best defensive Player: Junior LB Terrance Plummer. Plummer operates at a different speed than the players around him, which jumps off both film and stat sheets. More than just athletic, the 6-1, 229-pound is also highly instinctive, diagnosing running plays as they develop. The Knights' Outstanding Linebacker of 2012 finished third on the squad with 108 tackles, seven of which were behind the line. If the offseason is any indication, Plummer is ready to further step up his game to become an even more influential cog in the defensive wheel.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore C Joey Grant. Few opponents will be able to stop the UCF offense this season. Inconsistent play at the pivot, though, could be the equivalent of a roadblock in Orlando. There are few concerns about a Knights attack that produced at least 31 points 10 times last season. Grant is one of them. Despite a decent offseason so far, he remains an inexperienced player who was actually on the D-line in his rookie year. At such a critical position, he has to be up to the challenge, especially in a new league that produces quality D-linemen.
The season will be a success if ... UCF earns back-to-back bowl berths for just the second time in school history. The Knights are aiming to get acclimated to their new conference, while remaining on the winning track that led to 10 victories a season ago. The schedule is going to be challenging, including dates with Penn State, South Carolina, Louisville and Rutgers. Still, it's a slate that could produce eight regular season wins, which is where UCF ought to be aiming in 2013.
Key game: Oct. 18 at Louisville. Friday night. National TV. And a chance to make a statement to the country. UCF believes it harbors the veteran talent to take the AAC by storm in its first season in the league. Doing so, though, might require a road upset of the Cardinals, the heavy favorite to return to a BCS bowl game. It'll be the Knights' second conference game of the year, but the first one that truly measures their championship potential. The quarterback duel between UCF's Blake Bortles and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater will be a can't-miss event among NFL scouts.
2012 Fun Stats:
- Touchdown passes: UCF 28 – Opponents 16
- Red-zone TD%: UCF 73% – Opponents 58%
- Turnovers: UCF 15 – Opponents 27
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