2012 Record: 10-4 (7-1 in C-USA; tied for first in east division)
Head Coach: George O’Leary (60-55 at UCF; 112-88 overall)
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl: defeated Ball State 38-17
Stadium: Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, Fla. (capacity: 45, 301)
Notable alumni: Daunte Culpepper, Atari Bigby, Brandon Marshall, Asante Samuel
Big Games: 9/14 at Penn State, 9/28 vs. South Carolina, 11/29 vs. USF
Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking: 35th out of 124 teams
Pro: 35.4 points per game scoring average
Con: Gave up 4,942 yards to opponents (5.1 yards per play)
Returning Starters – 6 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams
Key players include: QB Blake Bortles; OLs Jordan McCray, Justin McCray and Torrian Wilson; TE Justin Tukes; WRs Jeff Godfrey, Breshad Perriman and J.J. Worton; RB Storm Johnson; K Shawn Moffitt; DLs Demetris Anderson, E.J. Dunstan and Thomas Niles; LB Terrance Plummer; CB Brandon Alexander; and S Clayton Geathers.
Key losses: RB Latavius Murray, S Kemal Ishmael, CB A.J. Bouye, P Jamie Boyle and KR Quincy McDuffie
CFBZ: The Knights are changing conferences for the second time in a decade. The last time they did so, in 2005, the team finished 7-1 in the C-USA, winning a divisional title. They matched that conference record last season, winning 10 games overall and another divisional title. What should AAC fans know about and expect from UCF football in 2013?
Brandon Helwig: Among the newcomers, UCF is best prepared to compete right away. Louisville is clearly the league favorite, but one could make an argument for the Knights to land anywhere from second to fourth place in the standings. There are some defensive issues to address, but the offense is solid and the schedule is quite favorable. The Knights don’t face Cincinnati, and other than Louisville, have a very winnable road schedule (Memphis, Temple, SMU).
CFBZ: Redshirt Junior QB Blake Bortles burst onto the scene last year with 3,000+ passing yards and 25 TD tosses in 14 starts. After Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, he looks to be the best quarter back in the conference this season. How would you describe him and the offense he’ll lead?
Brandon Helwig: UCF fans haven’t been this excited about an offense for more than a decade. Bortles looks like your prototypical NFL quarterback – he’s every bit of 6-5, possesses a strong (and accurate) arm and surprises with above average running ability.
Head coach George O’Leary has always favored a run-first attack, but he and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe said many times during the spring they aren’t afraid to air it out knowing Bortles has a deep and versatile receiving corps at his disposal. That group of receivers includes deep threats Breshad Perriman and Rannell Hall, plus J.J. Worton and Jeff Godfrey out of the slot.
As for the running game, I look for Storm Johnson and Cedric Thompson to establish themselves as a solid 1-2 punch. Johnson is your speedy, shiftier back, while Thompson is your classic north and south runner who can grind out yards.
The offensive line is experienced too, led by twin guards Jordan McCray and Justin McCray. Torrian Wilson is also developing into quite a solid left tackle.
The offense has traditionally been around 60-40 in favor of the run in past years, but I think it could be closer to 50-50 this year.
CFBZ: The Knights added a lot of defensive talent in this year’s recruiting class. They lost several key players on that side of the ball too. How much of an overhaul will that unit see as it prepares for 2013 play?
Brandon Helwig: The biggest questions heading into camp are in the secondary, where UCF must replace one of its best safeties of all-time in Kemal Ishmael as well as a very solid cornerback in A.J. Bouye. Brandon Alexander (corner) and Clayton Geathers (safety) do return as starters at the other two spots, but don’t be surprised if freshmen challenge for those other positions.
Two outside linebacker starters must also be replaced, but there is returning experience there. Coaches feel very confident in Terrance Plummer, who is the returning starter at middle linebacker.
Up front, UCF has a solid inside duo in senior E.J. Dunston and newcomer Demetris Anderson, who likely would have been starting had he not been forced to sit out after transferring from Western Michigan. On the edge, Thomas Niles, Deion Green and Luke Adams combined to have a solid spring.
CFBZ: Give us a sense of UCF and the place that football enjoys in the school’s culture. What’s the fan base like, and what should visitors be prepared to encounter at Bright House Networks Stadium on Saturdays this fall?
Brandon Helwig: Like the school itself, which is currently the second largest in the country in terms of enrollment, UCF’s fanbase has grown exponentially as well when you look at the past ten years, though the school is still fighting to develop that fanbase into one that consistently attends every game. Football is definitely king on campus. So is tailgating. The pregame atmosphere, particularly on the grassy lawn area called Memory Mall, is unmatched. Fans have a reputation for being loud and rowdy as it was consistently rated one of the most difficult places to play in Conference USA.
The Knights will face a higher level of competition in their new conference, but the offense should be up for the task. UCF has talented receivers and a veteran offensive line to complement Bortles. Question is: Can Storm Johnson pickup where Latavius Murray left off in the running game (Knights averaged 181 rushing yards per game in 2012)?
The defense is a bigger question mark. The Knights have depth but not much experienced talent, particularly in the middle and secondary. The defensive line should be stable, but linebackers and defensive backs will be an area that will benefit from quick development during camp.
Gone is Quincy McDuffie who netted 582 yards (34.2 avg.) and three TDs in 17 kick returns last year. That type of production will be very difficult to replace.
The Knights won a lot of shoot outs last year with a very talented offense. Their defense will need to raise their level of play to keep UCF in games against new conference opponents and out of conference opponents Penn State and South Carolina.
Predicted record: 7-5.
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