1st and Ten – Dynamic Duo – You just
knew that a George O’Leary coached football team was eventually
going to find a way to run the football, and run it well. It
doesn’t hurt in the slightest to have a talented pair of backs
like Kevin Smith and Jason Peters tearing through Conference
USA. Most teams have found success relying on two backs – 2005
USC and 2004 Auburn come to mind – and UCF has used that model
since Smith stepped on campus as a true freshman last year.
And, when Smith did step on the field, he was amazing, rolling
up nearly 1,200 yards. He was overshadowed by the great crop of
true freshmen runners last season (Tyrell Sutton of Northwestern
and Steve Slaton of West Virginia), but he has the entire
package – power, speed, vision and game breaker potential. But,
when Smith needs a rest, Peters comes into the game and the
Golden Knights don’t lose much. He ran for nearly 600 yards on
just 105 carries, coming in at 5.6 yards per carry. But, with
two solid backs like this, can the UCF offensive coaches pull an
‘Al Borges’ (think Auburn 2004) and get both guys on the field
at the same time. Borges was able to do this with Cadillac
Williams and Ronnie Brown, using Brown as a fullback, but not in
the traditional manner. Peters has the size to line up at
fullback, providing the potential of both of them together on
the field alongside much improved QB Steven Moffett. Perhaps
it’s not in the plans for UCF, but then again, there must be a
reason that Peters is shown on the spring two-deep at fullback.
That’s not good news for the rest of CUSA.
2nd and Seven – No Average
Joe – Quick, name the only Golden Knight freshman to ever be
named to a first team freshman All-American team. Has to be
Daunte Culpepper? Nope. What about Doug Gabriel, one of the
greatest UCF WRs in history? Uh, no. Joe Burnett? Ding Ding
Ding, we’ve got a winner. Tell ‘em what they’ve won, Johnny.
Well, with Burnett, the Golden Knights won games. The star
cover corner picked off five passes, which was second in CUSA.
But, that’s not all, what else do we have for our contestant?
How about one of the nation’s best punt returners? Burnett
finished the season as the best punt returner in the league
(16.5 yards per return), but it also means that there’ll be 12
teams that will find a way to kick the ball to the sideline.
With Burnett’s help, there’ll be plenty of parting gifts for the
losers, errr, UCF’s opponents.
3rd and Three – Not a Walk in
the Park – Typically, losing receivers isn’t always
devastating, but for UCF, Brandon Marshall and Mike Walker were
ultra-valuable to Moffett and the UCF passing game. Well, the
massive Marshall is due to collect a paycheck as he’s graduated
and taken his 74 grabs to the NFL. Walker, though, is a senior
who had 64 catches in 2005 and returns. Well, kind of. He
injured his knee late in the season and how healthy he’ll be by
August is a question. Even if he’s ‘ready’, how does the injury
affect his route running and confidence? Moffett is so reliant
on Walker that he has to have him in the lineup this fall.
4th and One – What do you do
for an encore? – There aren’t too many teams across America
who went from 0 and 11 to conference championship game and bowl
game in one season. Uh, let’s just say that UCF is in a league
of its own on that one. But, what happens now? Can UCF follow
on that progress and be a consistent top three team in
Conference USA? O’Leary has young talent in the right places.
He’s got experience in his offensive line, QB and the
secondary. There’s continuity within the coaching staff. The
UCF program won’t be seeing 0 and 11 in a good long while,
that’s for sure. But, can they be a bowl program year in and
year out, especially considering the plethora of high school
football talent in the state of Florida? In a word, ya’ think?