This is the final season for UCF in Conference USA, and the Knights would like nothing better than to leave for the Big East as the C-USA champs.
They have a good shot to do so, thanks to what should be a powerful rushing attack and a defense that annually is one of C-USA's best.
UCF had the most successful season in school history in 2010, winning 11 games and beating Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. But the Knights plummeted to a 5-7 mark last season, and coach George O'Leary shook up his staff. He has five new assistants, with four of them on defense.
The new defensive coordinator is Jim Fleming; he was out of football last season and was Kent State's linebacker coach in 2010. Fleming was hired in December to be the Knights' linebacker coach, but was elevated to the top spot on defense after Ted Roof was hired as Penn State's coordinator. Roof had been hired by O'Leary in December after he was nudged out at Auburn, but lasted less than two months at UCF before moving on to Penn State.
Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-5 in Conference USA (tied for 4th in C-USA East)
Coach: George O'Leary (50-51, 9th season at UCF; 102-84, 16th season overall)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (5)–QB Jeff Godfrey (moved to WR), G Theo Goins, T Chris Martin, WR Quincy McDuffie, C Jordan Rae. Defense (7) –CB A.J. Bouye, LB Jonathan Davis, E Troy Davis, SS Clayton Geathers, LB Troy Gray, T Victor Gray (moved to E), FS Kemal Ishmael Special teams (0) –None.
Fast fact: UCF has had four losing records under coach George O'Leary. The Knights have followed each of them up with at least eight wins the next season.
QB Jeff Godfrey started every game last season as a sophomore, but his relationship with the coaching staff was such that he left the program in January. While he returned during the offseason, his days at quarterback seem to be over; if he plays this fall, it almost certainly will be as a wide receiver. The new starter will be sophomore Blake Bortles, a big guy (6 feet 4/221 pounds) who is athletic and has a nice arm.
The offense still will rely on the rushing attack. The Knights are deep at tailback, returning their top two rushers (Brynn Harvey and Latavius Murray) and adding Miami transfer Storm Johnson. All three will get carries; Johnson and Murray would seem to be ahead of Harvey, who was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2009.
The receiving corps looks OK with the return of the top three wideouts. Speedy senior Quincy McDuffie never has quite fulfilled expectations, but he is a legit deep threat. J.J. Worton is the leading returning receiver, and Josh Reese is a solid No. 3.
C Jordan Rae and G Theo Goins are returning starters along the line. Starting T Chris Martin also returns, but he looks to have lost his starting job. The tackle spots actually could be a strength. One spot is expected to be manned by Georgia Tech transfer Phil Smith, who started 20 games in three seasons with the Yellow Jackets. He was dismissed from the Tech program but graduated and is eligible immediately as a graduate student at UCF. The other tackle is expected to be touted sophomore Torrian Wilson, who was a part-time starter last season. Martin and Justin McCray provide good depth. Justin's brother, Jordan, is in the mix for a starting job at guard.
UCF is one of the few programs in Conference USA that places an emphasis on defense, and that has served the Knights well. They should be especially strong along the line and in the secondary.
Junior Victor Gray is a two-year starter at tackle, but he could play end this fall. He has some pass-rush ability and is stout against the run. For sure, converted LB Troy Davis will be one starter at end. He is small (6-2/249) but quick, and had five sacks last season. Seniors Toby Jackson and Cam Henderson also are on hand at end.
E.J. Dunston, Josh Wofford and Andrew Rice are veterans who will see time at tackle. Redshirt freshman Thomas Niles also should be in the mix. Gray's versatility gives coaches a lot of leeway up front.
The secondary is headed by senior FS Kemal Ishmael, who is heading into his fourth season as a starter. He has made 244 tackles in his career to go with three picks, nine pass breakups and three forced fumbles. His running mate at safety is sophomore Clayton Geathers, who has NFL size (6-3/204) and hits a ton.
Senior A.J. Bouye is a starter at one cornerback spot. The other job was to have been manned by Josh Robinson, but he turned pro a year early. Sophomore Brandon Alexander, who played extensively last season, should take over for Robinson.
The linebackers are rather non-descript. The best is former TB Jonathan Davis, who lacks size (5-9/204) but runs well and is active (7.5 tackles for loss last season).
UCF is looking for a new punter and it likely will be Jamie Boyle, a senior with no attempts in his college career.
Shawn Moffitt shared the kicking duties last season, but the job should be all his this fall. He was 3-of-7 on field goals from beyond 30 yards.
Backup WR Rannell Hall is a dangerous kick returner, and Worton is an able punt returner.
The kickoff coverage was excellent last season, as UCF ranked ninth nationally. But the punt coverage was horrible, with the Knights ranking 115th.
The first two games are in Ohio. One is easy (at Akron), one is not (at Ohio State). But the only other tough road game is a trip to Tulsa on Nov. 17.
The home schedule is much more difficult. There are visits from FIU, Missouri, East Carolina, Southern Miss and SMU. The Oct. 13 game against Southern Miss likely will determine the C-USA East winner.
There are just two home games after Oct. 13.
UCF has some questions, to be sure, but the C-USA as a whole is down this season and the Knights look to have the best team. That their toughest league games are at home is a big boost.
The rushing attack should be one of the best in the conference. The defense overall will be among the two or three best in the league. That combination should give UCF a title in its final go-round in Conference USA.
The recruiting side
Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 61st nationally
The buzz: UCF signed a relatively small class of 18. The class included five offensive linemen, led by massive guard Chester Brown (6-5/340), a one-time Georgia commitment. Another top prospect is Orlando Agape Christian. WR Drico Johnson was the No. 96 prospect in the state of Florida last season. He was the only member of Florida's top 100 to sign with the Knights. – Chris Nee, Rivals.com
RB Storm Johnson. Now eligible to play after transferring from Miami, Johnson is poised to take a prominent role in UCF's offense. Johnson, a lightning-quick speedster who's being called the team's best home run threat since Kevin Smith in 2007, provides the perfect complement to returning starter Latavius Murray, a big, bruising back. The duo split first-team duties during the spring and also were paired in the backfield in some formations. Though he's yet to play a down for UCF, there's plenty of buzz around the program that Johnson could be a special player. – Brandon Helwig, UCFsports.com
For more on UCF throughout the season, check out UCFsports.com
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