Spring football ushers in a new era for the UCF Knights and offers an opportunity to move on from the most successful season in school history. With a head coaching change comes the challenge of attempting to continue to build on what appears to be a solid foundation and keep the momentum going without losing the identity of what made for a remarkable 2017 campaign.
5 Storylines to Watch During UCF’s Spring Practice
1. New coach, same expectations
Scott Frost cashed in on UCF’s undefeated season by returning home to take on the Nebraska job, so former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel steps in for his first head coaching gig to keep things moving. It is expected Heupel will keep the offensive philosophy very similar to what worked for the Knights last fall, but every coach brings a few new wrinkles to try out. How much Heupel changes will be seen more in the fall, but his first spring will be one to watch closely after the success UCF had last season.
2. Experienced OL helps keep things stable
One of the biggest assets Heupel will have in his first season in Orlando will be an offensive line that returns nearly all of its starters. The lone starting vacancy comes at left tackle, but the rest of the line comes with experience and the depth is getting better. Having a solid offensive line already locked in helps UCF set the foundation for sustained success this season.
3. McKenzie Milton a rising star with youth sitting behind him
Milton will have his name thrown out there as a long-shot Heisman Trophy candidate in the preseason publications, most likely, and it is easy to see why. After a dynamic season leading UCF’s offense, the junior quarterback is back for more and should keep the Knights clicking on offense. But behind him is a good amount of youth and inexperience. Having backups ready to step in if needed should be a focus this spring, and with a new playbook that levels the playing field for everyone. Darriel Mack is the most likely backup option for the Knights, but all young passers should look to show what they can do this spring to force Heupel to keep an open mind.
4. Moving from 3-4 to 4-3
With standout linebacker Shaquem Griffin off to the NFL, UCF needs to find someone capable of stepping in to serve as a leader on the field and on the sideline. The leadership of Griffin will not be easy to replace, nor will his skill on the field. Aside from replacing Griffin, UCF also is moving from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense, and that means some players are likely going to be asked to switch positions.
5. Retooling the defensive line
A shift in defensive scheme opens the door for a number of opportunities on a defensive line already in need of replacing key players from last season. Veterans like Joey Connors and Brendon Hayes will likely help patch things up quickly, but the younger players on the roster and some possible linebackers making a position swap will give defensive coordinator Randy Shannon plenty of work and film to evaluate as he looks to come up with a formidable defensive front.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of @UCF_Football)