Preview 2014 - UCF Knights

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 24, 2014


Preview 2014 - What can UCF possibly do to match its epic 2013 run? (Getty Images)


UCF Knights

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: George O’Leary
10th year: 60-55
Returning Lettermen
Off. 18, Def. 27, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 16
 Ten Best UCF Players
1. LB Terrance Plummer, Sr.
2. CB Jacoby Glenn, Soph.
3. SS Clayton Geathers, Sr.
4. WR J.J. Worton, Sr.
5. WR Rannell Hall, Sr.
6. WR Breshad Perriman, Jr.
7. OG Torrian Wilson, Sr.
8. FS Brandon Alexander, Sr.
9. RB Will Stanback, Soph.
10. DE Thomas Niles, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 Penn State
Sep. 6 OPEN DATE
Sep. 13 at Missouri
Sep. 20 Bethune-Cookman
Sep. 27 OPEN DATE
Oct. 2 at Houston
Oct. 9 BYU
Oct. 18 Tulane
Oct. 25 Temple
Nov. 1 at Connecticut
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 14 Tulsa
Nov. 22 SMU
Nov. 28 at USF
Dec. 6 at East Carolina

What can the Knights possibly do for an encore?

UCF authored in 2013 the kind of season that was fit for Disney World—a program-record 12 wins. Capturing the first American Athletic Conference title. And shockingly upsetting heavily-favored Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl to finish No. 10 in the AP. Now what?

Head coach George O’Leary plans to capitalize on last season’s unprecedented success and notoriety by employing the same formula that’s served him so well over the past decade in Orlando. He and his staff plan to work harder than ever to ensure that their program doesn’t lose any steam following the kind of breakout campaign teams dream about, yet rarely ever achieve. For the Knights, maintaining the momentum hinges on revamping the offense, specifically the backfield.

UCF is fully capable of competing for back-to-back conference crowns. National respect and attention, though, will be much harder to attain now that franchise QB Blake Bortles is a Jacksonville Jaguar. In Bortles, the Knights lost more than just one of the premier quarterbacks in college football. They’ll be missing their offensive identity and catalyst.

The Knights are well-fortified on both sides of the ball. The receiving corps could be among the ten best in the country. The defense returns nine starters, spearheaded by an air-tight, veteran secondary. As a rule, UCF is still a very fast football team. But the potential of the program in 2014 is going to be dictated by the performance of the new quarterback.

Bortles is gone, and no one anticipates his successor to play like a future first-rounder, at least no this soon. The heir apparent, though, will be expected to limit mistakes, while maximizing the speed of the wide receivers and tight ends. UCF is auditioning three players, , sophomore Justin Holman, redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo and incoming rookie Tyler Harris.

The trio expects to be joined in the summer by Orlando native Nick Patti, a mobile Boise State transfer who’s hoping to be available immediately. Holman was last year’s backup, but he only attempted 14 passes. DiNovo was the Knights’ scout team player of the year. Harris is a three-star recruit who enrolled in classes in January.

UCF is currently at the peak of its football existence, which began in 1979. The Knights couldn’t be much higher on the college football food chain than they are at this very moment. Or could they? O’Leary and his kids can double-down on last season’s success by remaining ranked and relevant in the post-Bortles era.

What to watch for on offense: The skill position players will dominate. The offense is a concern this offseason, but not because of the returning talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end. The Knights are loaded, which will help with the transition of the new quarterback. UCF won’t skip a beat in the running game now that Will Stanback is replacing Storm Johnson. And the pass-catchers are dynamite. Speedy UAB transfer Jackie Williams is being added to an electrifying corps that already includes Rannell Hall, J.J. Worton and Breshad Perriman.

What to watch for on defense: Teams planning on beating UCF this season better not fall behind. Opponents will want to test the front seven of the Knights, because the secondary has steel trap potential. On the last line of defense will be four returning starters, Brandon Alexander, Jordan Ozerities and all-stars Jacoby Glenn and Clayton Geathers. If this quartet knows that the other guys have to throw, it’ll rob them blind. The recipe for beating the UCF D in 2014 involves fast starts that keep teams from abandoning the ground game.

The team will be far better if … the defense improves in the red zone. The Knights didn’t have many issues on D prior to the Fiesta Bowl shootout with Baylor. The exception? Clamping down with their back against the wall. UCF had a bad habit of getting soft at the tail end of drives, ranking 109th nationally in red-zone stops. A year ago, the Knights had Blake Bortles and the offense to bail them out. With Bortles gone, the team has less margin for error than it did in 2013.

The Schedule: Can the Knights get by Penn State two years in a row? They kick things off in Ireland in a strange opening day start, but they get two weeks off to get past jeg lag before facing Missouri. Throw in a key conference road game at Houston, and three of the first four games are on the road. But then comes the payoff. A whopping five home games in teh next six are in Orlando, and while USF is a road game, it's just down the road a bit before closing out with a make-or-break game at East Carolina.

Best offensive Player: Senior WR J.J. Worton. There are bigger receivers in Orlando. And faster ones, too. But no one is tougher or more important to the success of the attack than Worton, the Knights’ most consistent and clutch pass-catcher. He brings 132 career receptions for 1,846 yards and seven touchdowns into his finale, often selling out his body to make a catch. The intensity and sure-hands of Worton are going to be especially important in a year that UCF is breaking in an unproven quarterback.

Best defensive Player: Senior LB Terrance Plummer. The Knights are bringing back a lot of talent to the defense in 2014. No one is more instrumental to the unit’s success than Plummer, a third-year starter with 235 career tackles. He’s added muscle since arriving in Orlando without sacrificing speed or agility. Plummer is as versatile as he is chaotic, leaving an unmistakable imprint on the run defense, pass defense and pass rush. He’s a heady player UCF can always count on to come up with a big stop.

Key player to a successful season: The new starting quarterback. It’s the obvious missing link for a program that would have been a fringe College Football Playoff threat had Bortles returned for his senior season. The Knights have concerns, such as on the lines, but nothing that compares to the worries regarding the quarterback situation. Out of Holman, DiNovo, Harris and Patti, someone has to emerge into a consistent playmaker, who moves the chains and keeps his turnovers to a minimum.

The season will be a success if ... UCF wins the American in back-to-back seasons. Sure, Bortles is gone, but so is Louisville and Rutgers. While the Knights won’t have a clear path to the crown, they do begin the season with momentum and one of the deepest rosters in the conference. They’ll be battle-tested by the time the league schedule gets cranking, opening the season in Dublin, Ireland versus Penn State, and facing Mizzou and BYU out of conference.

Key game: Dec. 4 at East Carolina. If this nationally-televised affair doesn’t decide the American champion, it’ll absolutely have some impact on the final outcome. The Knights and the Pirates are two of the league’s premier teams this season. While UCF is the defending champ, East Carolina will be eager to dethrone its visitor in front of a raucous Dowdy-Ficklen crowd. The Shane Carden vs. the UCF secondary matchup alone makes this regular season finale one of the can’t-miss conference games of the year.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Touchdown passes: UCF 16 – Opponents 13
- Red-zone TD%: UCF 60% – Opponents 68%
- First-quarter scoring: UCF 95 – Opponents 37

- 2014 UCF Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Player To Watch Out For