Breaking Down the Buzz: UCF
UCF fans are hoping the momentum of a Fiesta Bowl win can carry them to another successful season in 2014.
What they're talking about...the follow-up to a dream season. Blake Bortles and the Knights entered the Fiesta Bowl as double-digit underdogs and absolutely stunned college football fans everywhere by knocking off Baylor, the high-scoring Big 12 champions, 52-42. Bortles went on to become the first quarterback selected in the NFL Draft and top running back Storm Johnson is gone, but there are plenty of reasons to think the Knights will be in a position to repeat as American Athletic Conference champions in the second year of the league's existence.
What they're saying is...whoever replaces Blake Bortles will have some weapons. When looking for the fan pulse of UCF, we did not have to look beyond our own backyard. Matt Brodsky (@MattSBrodsky) is a star video producer for CBSSports.com, but he's also our go-to for all things Knights football. I asked for him to weigh in on a few topics related to the fan expectations for 2014.
On altered fan expectations after Fiesta Bowl win:
To many Knights fans, last year was supposed to be a transitional year into a new conference. Now that UCF finished its first year undefeated in the American, I think the expectations will be for the Knights to win the league every season. When you factor in the resources the university puts into its program compared to other schools in the conference, its location in talent-rich Florida and the departure of heavyweight Louisville, there's not much standing in the way of the Knights. If South Florida gets its act together, that would be a different story.
The entire starting defense is back, but replacing Blake Bortles is still an unanswered question. Thoughts on the quarterback competition?
Sophomore Justin Holman was the only one with experience under center heading into spring practice. He didn't really have a large enough sample size to determine if he will be "the guy" come fall, but has a strong arm and big frame. He'll be battling in the fall against a talented crop of other young players. Freshman Tyler Harris (who had an offer from Alabama) and RS freshman Pete DiNovo will be joined by Boise State transfer Nick Patti, who was ruled immediately eligible to play after spring practice concluded.
On what the offense brings back:
Obviously the offense will not be as effective as what it showed in the Fiesta Bowl and in other parts of last season, but whoever wins the quarterback job will have a lot of weapons at his disposal. UCF is very deep at wide receiver, returning a handful of very talented and experienced players (Breshad Perriman, Rannell Hall and J.J. Worton (of circus-catch fame). When Storm Johnson struggled with fumbling during last season, George O'Leary had no problem going with a very stable William Stanback, who showed his power and durability.
What we think is...it's really weird that UCF and Cincinnati don't play. We've mentioned this before, and Brodsky pointed this fact out as well in our back-and-forth: UCF and Cincinnati won't play each other for the second season in a row. This scheduling quirk can be blamed on conference realignment, but this year it is particularly concerning since the Knights and Bearcats are exptected to compete for the AAC title and the coveted spot in the New Years Six bowl games reserved for a team outside the five power conferences.
UCF's defense did give up 550 yards to Baylor in that Fiesta Bowl and had some concerning showings during conference play, but it was a largely inexperienced unit then and one assumes some improvement with only five defensive letterman lost. We will get a good look at the Knights in early season tests against Penn State (in Dublin) and at Missouri, but the team's AAC title hopes will rely on avoiding a slip-up late in the season. Late season scares against Temple and USF nearly de-railed the dream season in 2013, and the margin of error is arguably smaller now that George O'Leary's squad has become the team to beat in the league.
Looking for value picks and long shots in the SEC conference title odds
Ranking each of the 14 SEC teams by their 2017 strength of schedule
Ohio State is favored to win the Big Ten, but is it the best bet?
USC enters as the favorite, but are the Trojans the best bet?
Jim Harbaugh's Michigan staff will be at FAU on June 5
These five coaches will be hot names on the market after the 2017 season