For the first time in nearly two decades, UCF will start a freshman at quarterback in the season opener.
After little more than a week of practice, coach George O'Leary announced that pocket passer Pete DiNovo, a redshirt freshman, would be behind center when the Knights open the 2014 campaign against Penn State on Aug. 30.
Perhaps significantly in his announcement, O'Leary specified that DiNovo would be the No. 1 quarterback "going into the first game," leaving at least a bit of room for backups Justin Holman and Nick Patti to work their way into the picture later in the season.
O'Leary did not name either Holman, a sophomore who played in three games as Blake Bortles' backup last year, or Patti the official "No. 2" signal caller, however.
Patti is a sophomore who spent his first two years at Boise State, playing in six games last year. He is from Orlando and received a waiver for immediate eligibility with the Knights.
True freshman Tyler Harris is a fourth quarterback on the roster.
"From a management standpoint, from the sideline to the field, consistency is what I was looking for," O'Leary said of his decision. "I thought Pete elevated himself this last week."
DiNovo will become the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Knights since 2010, when Jeff Godfrey started 12 of UCF's 14 games as a true freshman. But Godfrey didn't make his first start until the third game of the season.
The last freshman to start an opener for the Knights was Daunte Culpepper in 1995.
DiNovo, from Tarpon Springs on Florida's Gulf Coast, will become only the seventh freshman to see action at the position since O'Leary took over the program in 2004. Others were Holman, Bortles, Godfrey, Rob Calabrese, Joe Weatherford, and Kyle Israel.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: You can't fault UCF for not being ambitious. The Knights open the season in Ireland against Penn State on Aug. 30 and two weeks later go to Missouri, which won the SEC East last year. The Knights get their home opener on Sept. 20 with Bethune-Cookman coming to Orlando and then get a second open date the next week to get ready for a Thursday night affair against Houston on Oct. 2.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Knights have key holes to fill on offense (quarterback, running back, line) but have the makings for another successful season if they come up with the right answers. They have a talented group of receivers headed by returnees Rannell Hall (57 catches, 886 yards), J.J. Worton (47-721), and Breshad Perriman (39-811) and add Jackie Williams, who had 140 career receptions at UAB before transferring to UCF and sitting out last year. A defense that made significant improvement in 2013 returns nine starters and should keep the Knights in games.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The Knights look to have a replacement for departed RB Storm Johnson in William Stanback (443 yards rushing, 4.2 average). Of more concern will be who up front will be opening holes and protecting the quarterback. The Knights lose three starters from the interior line, including all-AAC guards Jordan and Justin McCray.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's great for American football. We're looking forward to the game." -- Coach George O'Leary, on opening season in Ireland against Penn State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
HEAD COACH: George O'Leary, 11th year at UCF, 72-56 record at UCF, 124-89 overall.
DRAFT PROSPECTS (includes 2015 NFLDraftScout.com rating as applicable):
LT Torrian Wilson -- Wilson (6-3, 305) has been a regular since earning four starts as a freshman in 2011, starting 14 games in 2012 and 11 last year, missing two games to injury.
WR Breshad Perriman -- Only a junior, Perriman was only fourth on the team in receptions last year but his receiving yardage was second, and he led the Knight in average per catch (20.8). At 6-3, 214, he has ideal size.
CB Jacoby Glenn -- Glenn (6-0, 186) started 12 games as a redshirt freshman, missing the Temple outing because of injury. He finished with 52 tackles (two sacks), intercepted two passes, and forced two fumbles.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB Terrence Plummer -- The Knights have nine returning starters on defense, and Plummer is the guy who leads them. He was the Defensive MVP in the Fiesta Bowl win over Baylor and also the team's Outstanding Defensive Player of the season. He led the Knights with 110 tackles with 8.4 for negative yards (2.5 sacks). He also had two interceptions, six pass break-ups, and two forced fumbles.
BREAKOUT STAR: DT Demetrius Anderson -- In his first action since transferring from Western Michigan, Anderson started all 13 games last year and recorded 24 tackles with seven for negative yardage, including one sack. He looks headed for bigger things.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Jackie Williams -- Williams sat out 2013 after transferring from UAB, where he had a team-high 52 receptions in 2012. The Knights are deep at wide receiver but do lose Jeff Godfrey (43 receptions last year), so there is always room for one more.
--Freshman WR Jordan Akins has finally joined the Knights. A 2010 signee out of McDonough, Ga., Akins opted for baseball and spent the last four seasons in the Texas Rangers' minor league system before deciding to return to football this fall. He also could see action at tight end.
--Junior C Joey Grant, a returning starter who recently return to fall practice on a limited basis, is expected to be ready for the opener after injuring his shoulder in the spring.
--Senior LT Torrian Wilson got a look at guard in the spring but is back at tackle for the Knights.
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