After completing an undefeated season and celebrating the accomplishments, it is now time for UCF to turn the page toward the 2018 season. A new head coach making his head coaching debut leaves some questions for the defending AAC champions to address, but having a quarterback the caliber of McKenzie Milton should help keep things rolling this season.
UCF did not lose a game last season, but can the Knights do it again in 2018? Josh Heupel’s coaching debut will see an expected increase in difficulty in schedule strength with a pair of games against ACC opponents, a fun in-state showdown with Lane Kiffin’s FAU and road games in conference play against a dangerous Memphis team and rival USF.
Here’s how members of the Athlon Sports team see the season playing out for UCF this fall.
UCF Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
After last season’s 13-0 record, the bar is set high for UCF this fall. However, a coaching transition looms over this team. How will Josh Heupel fare in his first season as the program’s new leader? Heupel’s offenses at Missouri were prolific but struggled against teams with a winning record last year. While there are question marks to overcome about the transition in play-calling and scheme, it’s hard to see a significant drop-off on this side of the ball. Simply, the Knights are loaded with talent on offense. Quarterback McKenzie Milton will challenge for All-America honors, and there’s no shortage of talented playmakers at running back and receiver. New defensive coordinator Randy Shannon is transitioning this group from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and has to replace standout linebacker Shaquem Griffin and cornerback Mike Hughes. I still expect UCF to win the AAC, but with Frost calling the shots in Lincoln, a dip in the win column seems inevitable.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
The Knights should once again be the best team in the AAC, but they are likely headed for a small step back. Not only did they lose their head coach (Scott Frost is now the boss at Nebraska), they also lost some high-end talent on both sides of the ball. I'll give UCF a split in its two games against ACC teams — a win at North Carolina and a loss at home to Pittsburgh — and call for a loss at Memphis, the favorite to win the AAC West. Other potential land mines: FAU, Temple and Navy at home as well as South Florida on the road.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
I'm not yet convinced that Josh Heupel will be able to match what his predecessor was able to accomplish in Orlando but there's still plenty of great pieces back for 2018 that another big run should be in store. There should be little to no drop-off on offense with McKenzie Milton and Adrian Killins in the backfield and a host of playmakers on the outside. Heupel's tempo might even be a bit quicker than last season too. I'm not sold on the defense (losing Shaquem Griffin and Mike Hughes are tough for anybody to replace, especially so at this level) but the schedule remains super manageable with a lot of teams taking a step back. Another undefeated run seems like a stretch but this will once again be a leading candidate for the Group of 5 bid.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
I’m not too worried about Josh Heupel taking over for Scott Frost as head coach because he steps into a really good spot at UCF and in the AAC. The Knights are talented enough to win the majority of their games, but going back-to-back seasons without a loss is incredibly difficult and rare. UCF will drop a game in regular season play, and the road game against Memphis looks to be the most dangerous spot. There are a handful of toss-up games against the ACC with UNC on the road and Pitt coming south, but UCF winning each is not to be unexpected. Even the FAU game could end up being a fun toss-up game that goes down to the wire.
(McKenzie Milton photo courtesy of UCF Athletics)