2008 CFN UCF Preview
UCF CB Joe Burnett
UCF CB Joe Burnett
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - UCF Knights

UCF Knights

Preview 2008

By Richard Cirminiello    

- 2008 CFN UCF Preview | 2008 UCF Offense
- 2008 CFN UCF Defense | 2008 UCF Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN UCF Preview | 2006 CFN UCF Preview

Head coach: George O'Leary
5th year: 22-28
12th year overall: 74-61
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 15, Def. 20, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best UCF Players
1. CB/PR Joe Burnett, Sr.
2. SS Sha'reff Rashad, Sr.
3. LT Patrick Brown, Sr.
4. WR Rocky Ross, Sr.
5. FS Jason Venson, Sr.
6. DE Bruce Miller, Soph.
7. CB Johnell Neal, Sr.
8. LB Cory Hogue, Sr.
9. LB Chance Henderson, Jr.
10. WR Kamar Aiken, Soph.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Results: 0-0

Aug. 30 South Carolina State
Sept. 5 South Florida
Sept. 13 OPEN DATE
Sept. 20 at Boston College
Sept. 27 at UTEP
Oct. 4 SMU
Oct. 11 at Miami
Oct. 26 at Tulsa
Nov. 2 East Carolina
Nov. 8 Southern Miss
Nov. 15 at Marshall
Nov. 22 at Memphis
Nov. 29 UAB

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Results: 10-

Sept. 1 at NC State W 25-23
Sept. 15 Texas L 35-32
Sept. 22
Memphis W 56-20
Sept. 29 UL Lafayette W 37-19
Oct. 6 at E Carolina L 52-38
Oct. 13 at So. Florida L 64-12
Oct. 20
Tulsa W 44-23
Oct. 28 at So Miss W 34-17
Nov. 3 Marshall W 47-13
Nov. 10
at UAB W 45-31
Nov. 17 at SMU W 49-20
Nov. 24
UTEP W 36-20
Conference USA Championship
Dec. 1 Tulsa W 44-25
Liberty Bowl
Dec. 29 Miss State L 10-3

Sure, star RB Kevin Smith’s decision to leave early for the NFL took some wind out of the Knights’ sails, but in the broader picture, it doesn’t change where the program is headed under George O’Leary.

Although the entire backfield will need to be retooled, the facilities in Orlando are still top-notch, the coaching staff is terrific, and the campus location bodes well for recruiting for the foreseeable future. In other words, UCF remains one of Conference USA’s most stable schools and a favorite to repeat as league champs after winning 10 games and solidifying its foundation a year ago.      

More than anything else, O’Leary wants to maintain last season’s success regardless of any personnel hurdles. In recent years, UCF has been wildly unpredictable; a trend O’Leary is hoping to end in 2008.  If the Knights can find answers at quarterback and running back, while continuing the defensive momentum they had at the end of last season, there’s no reason the program won’t be right back in the thick of the league title hunt in November. 

What to watch for on offense:
Considering the gaping hole that exists in the running game, the Knights are going to need more production from a passing attack that was last in the league and 105th nationally a season ago.  The battle to replace Kyle Israel at quarterback will focus on Joe Weatherford, brother of Florida State’s Drew Weatherford, and Michael Greco, a 220-pound dual threat southpaw that conjures up images of Tim Tebow light.  As if the running game needed more problems, Phillip Smith, Kevin Smith’s successor, suffered a lower leg injury and finished the spring on crutches.  If he’s unavailable for any length of time, UCF will be forced to dig deep into the roster, relying on unknowns, such as James Jamison and Ronnie Weaver.      

What to watch for on offense: In light of the problems on the other side of the ball, the defense may have to carry the offense in the early stages of the season.  The unit welcomes back nine starters, 10 if you count LB Jordan Richards, who was slated to start before suffering a season-ending injury.  The secondary, in particular, is flush with senior talent, led by all-leaguers Joe Burnett and Sha’Reff Rashad.  It was those two ball hawks, along with Jason Venson and Johnell Neal that helped UCF lead the conference with two dozen picks a year ago.  The defense’s biggest objective will be to find replacements for DE Leger Douzable and DT Keith Shologan, the line’s best pass rusher and run-stuffer, respectively.           

The team will be far better if … the passing game makes a quantum leap after finishing last in Conference USA a year ago.  Although Michael Greco or Joe Weatherford won’t have to carry the offense, it’s incumbent on one of the quarterbacks to take some heat off the running game and get an improving receiving corps more involved in the gameplan.  With Kevin Smith on campus, the Knights didn’t have to be balanced to reach the end zone.  Smith, however, is now an employee of the Detroit Lions.   

The Schedule: The defending Conference USA champions have to go to Tulsa and get a relatively tough game at UTEP
to deal with from the West, but they also get the two other East contenders, Southern Miss and East Carolina, at home. Things get interesting late with back-to-back road trips to Marshall and Memphis before closing out with a sure-thing against UAB. The season opener against South Carolina State is forgivable considering the other three non-conference dates are South Florida, at Boston College and at Miami.

Best Offensive Player: Senior LT Patrick Brown.  A rock at left tackle for the Knights, Brown has started 38 straight games, tops among the nation’s active players.  Over the years, he’s added weight and packed on muscle to become as adept at opening holes as he is at protecting the passer.  With one final season left in Orlando, Brown will make a strong pitch to become the league’s premier offensive lineman, while auditioning for NFL scouts that love his light feet in a 6-5, 292-pound frame.      

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB Joe Burnett.  The brightest light on an underrated UCF defense, Burnett is a game-changer out of the secondary and one of the program’s most dynamic all-around athletes.  Whether he’s fielding punts or making a break on a quarterback’s pass, big plays are a part of his DNA.  For his career, Burnett has a dozen picks and a couple of special teams touchdowns, forcing the other team to always know where No. 19 is on the field.                  

Key player to a successful season: Junior RB Phillip Smith.  No, he’s not going to be the second coming of Kevin Smith, but then again, he won’t have to be for the Knights to move the ball.  For UCF to have any success on offense, it’ll have to establish a consistent ground game, especially with the uncertainty behind center.  If Smith can recover from his spring leg injury, he’s shown enough ability in practice and limited carries to be the program’s next 1,000-yard rusher.  If not him, the Knights don’t have many other viable options at running back.  

The season will be a success if ... the Knights repeat as conference champions.  With as much momentum as the program has these days, there’s no reason to lower the bar, especially in a league that’s light on bona fide contenders.  If UCF can find a few answers in the backfield to replace Smith and Israel, it’ll again be favored to win the division and represent the East in the December title game.

Key game: Nov. 2 vs. East Carolina.  While the game a week earlier in Tulsa might have more sex appeal, the Knights will have to beat the Pirates in order to remain in the Eastern Division driver’s seat.  In Greenville last October, ECU pummeled UCF behind the multi-faceted Chris Johnson, the last time the eventual Conference USA champs dropped a league game.            

2007 Fun Stats: 
- First half scoring: UCF 319 – Opponents 171
- Rushing yards per game: UCF 234.8 – Opponents 133.1
- Fumbles: UCF 29 (lost 15) – Opponents 17 (lost 4)