UCF Knights 2016 Preview and Prediction
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#100 UCF Knights
American Athletic East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Scott Frost, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Troy Walters | DEF. COORDINATOR: Erik Chinander
A winless season, including a loss to FCS member Furman, signaled the end of the George O' Leary era at UCF. Oregon offensive whiz Scott Frost takes over the reigns of a program that is just three seasons removed from winning the Fiesta Bowl and was a conference champion in 2014. Frost may be just what the Knights need to get back to the top of the American Athletic Conference, but it may take some time.
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Previewing UCF’s Offense for 2016
Change is in the air at UCF with the arrival of head coach Scott Frost, the former Oregon offensive coordinator who is bringing the Ducks’ prolific offense down to Florida. The days of George O’Leary’s pro-style, ball-control offense are over. Now it’s a fast-paced, no-huddle spread. Frost inherits a team that was winless last season, but he’s not devoid of talent with experienced players at virtually every offensive position. Injuries were a key reason for the struggles of 2015, not the least of them quarterback Justin Holman’s broken finger that limited him for much of the year.
Holman, a senior who helped lead the Knights to the 2014 conference title, appears to be adapting well to the new scheme, and he does have skilled athletes around him. Sophomore wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith is a star in the making after a rookie season in which he led the team in both receptions (52) and receiving yards (724). There’s promising youth at running back, notably sophomore Taj McGowan, plus a pair of incoming recruits who possess elite speed.
Tight ends could be a bigger focal point in the passing game, and there’s no shortage of experience there with Jordan Akins and Jordan Franks both making the transition from wide receiver.
The biggest question is whether the offensive line — an underperforming unit last year — can adapt to the new style.
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Previewing UCF’s Defense for 2016
The changes are nearly as dramatic on defense with UCF moving to a 3-4 scheme coordinated by Erik Chinander, who came with Frost from Oregon and also spent time with Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles. Chinander has experience to work with in the secondary, which should be the strength of the team as seniors could very well start at all four of the back-end positions. Safety Drico Johnson is a steady presence as the team’s leading returning tackler.
The front seven has more questions. Defensive tackle Jamiyus Pittman is a solid player, having led the team in sacks last season, but he needs help, which is why defensive line was such a big focus in recruiting with three junior college additions.
The 3-4 alignment may turn out to be a net positive for the existing talent base, since UCF does have a bit more depth at linebacker. Junior outside linebacker Chequan Burkett is the leader of the group and is an all-conference candidate.
Previewing UCF’s Specialists for 2016
Through all the woes of last season, the kicking game was reliable, and everybody is back. Caleb Houston posted the second-best punting mark in school history with a 44.2-yard average, while kicker Matthew Wright was dependable in his freshman debut, making 13-of-17 field goals and every one of his extra-point attempts. Tristan Payton was explosive as a kick returner, but don’t be surprised if true freshman speedsters Adrian Killins, Jaquarius Bargnare and Jawon Hamilton also get a look there this fall.
UCF averaged 9.4 victories from 2010-14, won the Fiesta Bowl in 2013 and was coming off back-to-back conference championships, which is why last year’s 0–12 season came as such a shock. Despite the record, there was always a sense UCF wasn’t a typical winless team; youth, injuries and coaching turmoil — O’Leary resigned midway through the season — all contributed to the downfall. Frost has tools at his disposal — an experienced quarterback in Holman capable of running his offense, some young playmakers in Smith and Payton and veterans on defense — but the question is how quickly he can put the pieces together to build the Knights back into a winner. Three to four wins would be a solid starting point, though bowl eligibility isn’t out of the question if a few breaks go their way.