Head coach: George O’Leary
2014 Record: 9-4; 7-1 AAC
2014 Bowl: 34-27 L to NC State at St. Petersburg Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 6 offense, 4 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +300000
Odds to win 2015 AAC Title: +750
Regular Season Wins: Over 7 (-150), Under 7 (+130)
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Justin Holman has a lot of UCF fans confident in the QB position much like when Blake Bortles was manning the position, but replicating last year’s defensive numbers is definitely the Knights’ biggest challenge.
Justin Holman started to come into his own his sophomore NCAA season. He threw for 2,952 yards last season on 223 of 392 passing with 23 TDs and just 14 INTs. Improving that efficiency further with his added experience should keep UCF a formidable team in the AAC.
In the backfield, experience is there. William Stanback was named all-Conference despite missing several games with nagging injuries, and he’s now a junior much like Holman. He rushed for 697 yards and 10 TDs last season. All but one of the OL returns and the coaches think C/G Joey Grant can come back at full strength after offseason shoulder surgery.
WR presents the most problematic area for the Knights. Every starter is gone from 2014 and that includes NFL early entry Breshad Permian. Jordan Akins is a former minor league baseball player with talent, but he caught just 12 passes last year. The potential is there for him to be a very pleasant surprise option.
Tre’Quan Smith was Holman’s favorite target in the spring so he could be in for a big season, but the shortage of experience is going to hurt the Knights’ passing game most likely. Maybe it gets best late in the season as Smith and Akins develop chemistry with each other and Holman.
The UCF Knights finished No. 5 nationally defensively last year (298.5 yards allowed per game) and No. 9 in scoring defense (allowing just 19.2 points per game), but the Knights lost seven defensive starters from that squad. Two of the three LB Starters are gone and CB Jacoby Glenn declared for the NFL draft, too.
At CB, the Knights do have several guys who could step up and be big time performers like Shaquill Griffin, D.J. Killings, Kyle Gibson and Chris Williams (the last two of whom were the big hauls of the 2014 recruiting class).
The LB lineups varied in the spring but Chequan Burkett and Errol Clarke were the two standouts. The best part of UCF’s ‘D’ will be the DL where senior Thomas Nile returns and led the team last year with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. MLB Demetris Anderson and Lance McDowell both bring great experience and sophomore Jamiyus Pittman will be in for playing time this season as a starter at DT.
UCF will rely on a redshirt freshman in Matthew Wright for kicking duties. Shawn Moffitt is gone, possibly the best kicker in UCF history. Wright was good in the spring though and has a strong leg. Caleb Houston will be back at punter and averaged 38.9 yards on 54 punts a year ago. Returns will be handled by Akins, Chris Davis and Michael Rogers, in some form or combination.
The Knights lose so many key players that almost everyone expects a fall off from last year’s nine wins and 7-1 conference record. How much of a fall off is difficult to ascertain, but the Knights do have a great QB in Holman and the defense should have at least some carry-over after such a great year, even with the turnover in starters.
George O’Leary says the team is “reloading” and not “rebuilding,” and that’s probably actually a fair and honest statement, because this team is clearly not starting from scratch nor losing all key producers. That said, the O/U for wins at 5dimes of ‘7’ is likely still a win low.
UCF will face Stanford and South Carolina in weeks 2 and 4, and if it can manage to win both those and start 4-0 it will find a way to eight wins. Splitting those games would require at least a 6-2 conference record to reach eight wins.
Prediction: 8 wins