With football season inching closer, we continue our preview series with the hated rivals from Central Florida.
Central Florida Knights
Head Coach: Scott Frost (1st year)
2015 Result: UConn 40, UCF 13 - Arkeel Newsome had 151 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns as the Huskies rolled over the Knights, destroying for their second win in a row over UCF.
2016 Game: October 22 - at Rentschler Field
UCF’s Strengths: While the Knights did not win a game in 2015, they have overhauled the program with new head coach Scott Frost and 17 returning starters from last year. Many of those starters were freshmen in 2015 and will now have another year of experience under their belts.
The Knights have an experienced, cannon-armed quarterback in senior Justin Holman who at times showcases NFL-caliber potential. Sophomore running back C.J. Jones averaged 5.1 yards after contact last year, indicating some explosiveness that could be a potent part of the Golden Knights’ backfield.
UCF’s Weaknesses: Despite the youth, UCF was absolutely awful last year. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, they were 100th or worse nationally in every aspect of offense AND defense last season. Holman, despite his moments of brilliance, has been woefully inconsistent and throws some exceptionally stupid interceptions. The team lacks any type of playmaker on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, and while they did have the third-best recruiting class in the AAC per Rivals, they still have a way to go if they are going to compete again at the top of the conference.
How They Match Up: UCF was smothered by the Huskies last year thanks to a combination of power running and timely turnovers. UConn will look to bait Holman into making dumb throws, hopefully leading to some easy interception opportunities. On offense, the line will need to step up against a UCF defensive front that lost three of its four mainstays from 2015. If the Huskies execute, this should be an easy win for them on Homecoming.
Brandon Helwig of the UCF Rivals site, www.UCFSports.com, was kind enough to provide some deeper inside into UConn's counterpart in the #conFLiCT rivalry.
1) Obviously, an 0-12 season is not what fans hoped for or expected after three really good seasons. Yet, there was still tremendous attendance at your spring game and fan support seems to not have missed a beat. Why is that the case?
While UCF did go winless, the slate was entirely wiped clean by December with a new AD (Danny White) and new head coach (Scott Frost). It had been 12 years since UCF had seen a coaching transition so there was plenty of excitement to see the changes implemented by Frost, namely the Oregon-based spread offense as opposed to the traditional pro-style offense preferred by George O'Leary.
2) Are expectations for new head coach Scott Frost that he is in year one of a rebuild or is there a possibility that he hits the ground running in year 1?
That's the million-dollar question entering the season. Don't forget this was a team that was coming off back-to-back conference championships, including a Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor after the 2013 season. 2015 saw a perfect storm of issues, key losses to graduation compounded by major injuries and underlying coaching tension, so the end result was what it was. I suppose you are what your record says you are, but there was always sense UCF was a better team than the record indicated, particularly in the talent department. As for how quickly can Frost turn things around? He's been careful in how he's managing expectations. There's a lot of unknowns for him, being a first-year head coach and inheriting a team that had confidence issues coming off 0-12. Given the schedule and the belief that the cupboard wasn't believed to be entirely bare, a good starting point could be around the five-win range which could be enough for a bowl game, if there are open spots available, given UCF's strong APR.
3) Where does your quarterback situation stand currently?
Senior Justin Holman, UCF's starter since the 2014 season, is expected to be named the starting quarterback. There is another senior, Nick Patti, who should fulfill the backup duties. Neither will be able to help UCF next season, so there is a belief Frost may try to gain experience for true freshman McKenzie Milton, widely regarded as the likely QB of the future.
4) Who are some playmakers to keep an eye out for on offense and defense?
WR Tre'Quan Smith was the American Rookie of the Year last season and should be UCF's top receiver again. At the running back spot, there's considerable early buzz for a true freshman, Jawon Hamilton. Defensively, Jamiyus Pittman leads the group as UCF's top defensive lineman.
5) Which positional groups are the biggest weakness heading into the season?
Though it's hard to say with closed practices, one tends to think offensive line and defensive line. The OL's struggles were a big part of why 2015 went south and they were said to have initially struggled with adapting to the scheme change. Jamiyus Pittman is a solid player on that defensive line, but the rest of the unit lacks depth and experience. In any case, both lines have the most to prove this season.
6) Thoughts on the #conFLiCT?
Bemusement. I think most thought Bob Diaco just got on one of his tangents when he talked about the potential for a rivalry in the week leading up to the 2014 game, but the creation of a trophy and countdown clock made things a little more awkward that following summer, becoming an instant punch-line for message boards and social media after UCF acknowledged they had no part in it. I think people can understand what Diaco is trying to do, given UConn has no natural rivalries in the American, but you can't force a rivalry especially when there's no logical reason for one to exist in the first place.