Head Coach: Scott Frost
2015 Record: 0-12
2015 Bowl: N/A
2016 Returning Starters: 8 Offense, 5 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +999999
Odds to win 2016 AAC Championship: +14000
Regular Season over/under: 4.5 wins
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The UCF Knights took a nose dive in 2015, losing all 12 games in a disaster that offset the recent successes of the program. Consistency has been an issue for the Knights even pre-dating their time in the AAC, but to solve these issues the Knights turned to a pretty proven commodity: former Oregon OC Scott Frost. Frost will attempt to jumpstart the Knights’ with a fast-paced high octane offense; you know, the kind that has made the Oregon Ducks into a powerhouse.
UCF is not Oregon, but it has to start somewhere. Senior QB Justin Holman has started for two seasons now and sophomore Tyler Harris and senior Nick Patti add depth. Patti started five games at WR, but he will move back to QB this season. As to who starts for the Knights, that remains to be seen. Holman is the likely starter, but it is not carved into stone.
The Knights are strong at WR with Tre’Quan Smith (52 catches last year as a redshirt freshman) and Tristan Payton (21 last year as a true freshman). TE Jordan Akins had 14 catches in three games before his season ended due to injury, and his skills should only make Smith and Payton that much more viable.
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The Knights have some passing options, and it stands to reason that Frost can put this all together. OC Troy Walters will play his role in carving this into a unit.
In the backfield the Knights have C.J. Jones, who started seven games as a redshirt freshman, rushing for 339 yards. Taj McGowan was good for 262 yards in his freshman year, despite battling injuries for most of the year. The OL returns four starters, and T Aaron Evans started all 12 games to bring some stability and experience to UCF’s OL.
The Knights will switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme this season. The ‘D’ returns five starters, but three of those are in the secondary which means that the DL is going to be a bit of a work-in-progress, this year anyway. The secondary also was notoriously weak last year with just four INTs all season. Returning CB Shaquill Griffin had two of the four. Senior D.J. Killings started seven games at CB last season, too.
Drico Johnson enters his senior season after starting nine of the 12 games last year, and he had 64 tackles at FS. Tre Neal started five games at SS last season and he recorded 55 tackles. Junior Jamiyus Pittman had 45 tackles last year and seven for loss, while also recording 4.5 sacks. UCF needs more still.
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Junior LB Chequan Burkett started every game last season, and he was second on the team in sacks to Pittman with three. The Knights have a lot of turnover defensively, but it is hard to imagine it being much worse than last year. In 2015, the Knights allowed 37.7 points per game while giving up 464.1 yards per game (No. 113 in nation).
Given that the offense managed just 13.9 points per game, it was the recipe for a winless season.
K Matthew Wright converted 13 of 17 FGA last season with two from 48 yards. Caleb Houston has started for three seasons and averages 41.9 yards per punt, with last year being 44.2 per attempt. Chris Johnson will return punts and Tristan Payton will handle kickoffs. Both are good return men.
The Knights open the season against South Carolina State on Sept. 3 and then proceed to face Michigan and Maryland in Weeks 2 and 3. The Michigan game will be a good chance for exposure, but it is quite likely that the Knights get absolutely pummeled. Over-analysis of the schedule is pretty fruitless, because UCF is mostly just trying to get back on the tracks following last season’s disaster.
The season finale at South Florida (Nov. 26) likely will not be a very close game, but it will be a cause for major celebration should the Knights manage to knock off the Bulls, who are an AAC contender this season.
The Knights will be better. Is that too easy to say after a team goes winless? Yes, it absolutely is. UCF made a wise decision hiring Frost, but his work is also cut out for him in every sense of the phrase. Recruiting has to get better for the Knights, because they are continually coming up short with their efforts.
UCF cannot count on landing the next Blake Bortles or Storm Johnson when it is continually missing out on the top local prospects and allowing so much talent from Central Florida to end up elsewhere. Perhaps Frost begins to change that, but for the time being the Knights simply want to get back to being a decent football team.
With the bar set rather low, perhaps UCF surprises some teams in the AAC this season and begins to build steam back towards respectability.
Prediction: 3 wins
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