Preview 2017: UCF Knights
Previewing and looking ahead at the UCF Knights season – and what you need to know.
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It’s almost as if UCF is going into the 2017 season in limbo
Can the program keep head coach Scott Frost if he has one truly great year?
Is it possible the Big 12 might soon wake up and realize that having a bigger TV audience is a good thing, and bringing in UCF and USF would be a terrific way to expand?
Can UCF fully bounce back from the end of the George O’Leary era?
O’Leary proved in 2013 that UCF could compete at the highest of levels – going 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl win – but two years later came the 0-12 misfire. However, it seemed to be universally acknowledged that things weren’t quite as miserable as the winless season might have appeared – there was going to be an almost immediate bounce-back.
Sure enough, in stepped Frost, and UCF was six wins better and off to a bowl game.
But before erecting any statues for the new guy after just one season, UCF beat a big bag of jack squat – the five wins over FBSers came against teams that failed to win more than four games, and the sixth was over South Carolina State.
Worst of all, getting a home bowl game against a Sun Belt team, UCF went into the tank in a 31-13 loss to Arkansas State.
Fine, so after going winless, six wins and a bowl is great no matter what. But again, for a program that won 31 games over three years before the drop off the map, it’s used to doing a whole lot more.
And Frost is still learning. He might have been the offensive coordinator for some unstoppable Oregon teams – including the Marcus Mariota one that played for the national title – and he might be a seasoned 42-years-old, but he still has just the one year of head coaching experience.
If he can make UCF a player in the AAC East chase, and if, oh, say, Nebraska might have a rough year under Mike Riley, that might be the big move to make after the former Cornhusker was never in line for the open Oregon gig.
And if he can make UCF a superstar again, all of a sudden, the dynamic really changes with the expansion talk – at least among the media and the fans – really starting to heat up.
Frost has a good enough team to be even better, but he has work to do with several holes to fill.
Helped by LB Shaquem Griffin, the pass rush should be among the most dangerous in the conference again, but the run defense has to be far, far stronger than it showed late last year after getting ripped to shreds.
In all, five of the top six and seven of the top nine tacklers are gone, and the secondary is undergoing an overhaul after losing a slew of senior producers, but the athleticism is there among the young prospects about to step in. As long as the good front seven can hold up, the defensive backfield should turn out to be okay.
The offense should be stronger and more effective, with Jawon Hamilton leading a talented young group of backs that should be stronger behind an improved line. There might not be a whole lot of depth or beef up front, but this group knows what it’s doing, and it can move well.
Now the O has to start moving the chains after finishing 113th in the nation in total yards and sputtering to convert the tempo into production. Fortunately, Tre’Quan Smith and the receiving corps are strong, and McKenzie Milton should know what he’s doing after fighting through his freshman season.
It would be a great problem to have if Frost was so good, and UCF so successful, that he had options and the program became hot again.
Or, maybe, Frost – one of the AAC East’s crusty veterans with four new head coaches taking over – thinks UCF is a sleeping giant that could be built up into something much, much bigger.
He was able to get UCF off the mat in one year. Now he might just be good enough to get it to the American Athletic Conference title game.