No. 64 UCF
Now that UCF moved beyond the winless 2015 season, the Knights are aiming to catch rival USF atop the American East.
Their offense has spent the offseason searching for consistency and ways to distribute the ball to a bevy of playmakers, and a defense gutted by departures is grooming replacements to work alongside an All-American candidate at linebacker.
2016 Record: 6-7 (4-4, AAC)
UCF badly needed to eradicate to the stench of a winless season. They did that with six victories under first-year head coach Scott Frost. But it could've been much better.
The Knights lost to Maryland in overtime and Temple and Tulsa by a combined eight points. Frost is a revered offensive mind but it was their improved defense that turned heads, ranking in the nation's top 50 in scoring, passing and total defense. The unit allowed nearly two fewer yards per play last year than in 2015.
Head Coach: Scott Frost (2nd year, 6-7 overall)
Some people (yours truly) assumed Scott Frost was waiting for an opening at Nebraska, his alma mater, therefore him jumping from the comfy confines of an offensive coordinator job at Oregon for UCF was unexpected.
The 42-year-old has just a decade of coaching experience but is coming off a hugely successful first season. He is recruiting like a boss and has UCF headed back toward stability and national relevance.
“We got to keep building depth and getting the next freshmen class in here and they’ll obviously help with depth too,” Frost said during spring ball. “But I think we’ll be a deeper team at most positions than we were last year.”
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB McKenzie Milton, RB Jawon Hamilton, RB Adrian Killins, TE Jordan Akins, WR Tre'Quan Smith, WR Cam Stewart, WR Drederick Snelson, OT Aaron Evans, OT Wyatt Miller, G Tyler Hudanick, C Jordan Johnson
Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton is the incumbent after a good-enough spring followed a so-so freshman season. The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder grabbed the job mid-season and completed 58 percent of his attempts for 1,983 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He'll be tasked with taking Frost's "UCFast" offense to the next level. Though the Knights ranked 66th nationally with a 28.8 scoring average, they strung together too many three-and-outs and scored 20 or fewer points three times.
UCF returns almost every offensive skill player from a year ago, including two-time leading receiver Tre'Quan Smith and two sophomore running backs in Jawon Hamilton and Adrian Killins Jr. The latter was a dangerous weapon for the transitioning offense, picking up 325 yards on just 50 carries (6.5 yards per carry).
Also keep an eye on receiver Drederick Snelson, a four-star 2016 commit who had 17 catches and two scores as a true freshman.
The offensive line returns four players with starting experience. Guard Tyler Hundanick is back after suffering a season-ending injury in October, and sophomore Jordan Johnson is moving from guard to center.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Jamiyus Pittman, DE Trysten Hill, DE Tony Guerad, LB Shaquem Griffin, LB Pat Jasinski
Shaquem Griffin might be the most underrated defender in America.
The 6-foot-1, 213-pound linebacker came out of nowhere to win AAC Defensive Player of the Year by registering 92 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. He also added seven passes defended and two forced fumbles for a unit that outperformed expectations.
He headlines a front seven that lost three other linebackers but returns three defensive linemen in ends Tony Guerad and Trysten Hill and tackle Jamiyus Pittman. As a freshman, Hill had three-straight games with a tackle for loss.
Defensive coordinator needs his front-seven veterans to hold it down in September as a new secondary develops.
Notable Player Losses
WR Taylor Oldham, LB Mark Rucker, LB Demeitre Brim, LB Errol Clarke, CB Shaquill Griffin, CB D.J. Killings, S T.J. Mutcherson, S Drico Johnson
Taylor Oldham deserves a hat tip for being one of the few bright spots for a struggling offense. However, the real losses came on a defense. The unit was gashed by departures; they seven starters at linebacker and defensive back
Mark Rucker is gone after stuffing box scores with 93 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, as are fellow linebackers Errol Clarke and Demeitre Brim. The latter, a former Virginia transfer, had his biggest collegiate season a senior, registering 82 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss.
Seattle Seahawks' draft pick Shaquill Griffin and all-conference corner D.J. Killings leave big voids in the secondary.
Notable Player Additions
QB Darriel Mack Jr., LB Gabriel Luyanda, LB Sterling Jones, CB Antwan Collier, S Shawn Burgess-Becker
The quarterback job is McKenzie Milton's — for now. Darriel Mack Jr., a three-star 2017 recruit, could challenge for immediate playing time with a strong fall camp followed by in-season inconsistency from Milton. Mack passed on offers from Pitt, Virginia and West Virginia to join UCF.
The defense lost an army of key players but they also added an army of promising replacements. Shawn Burgess-Becker is already earning all-conference whispers. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound redshirt sophomore played on special teams at Alabama in 2015 before transferring and sitting out last year.
JUCO transfer Gabriel Luyana and true freshman Sterling Jones are competing for snaps, as is redshirt freshman corner Antwan Collier.
|Thursday, Aug. 31||vs. FIU|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Memphis|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Georgia Tech|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Maryland|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. Maine|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Cincinnati|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. East Carolina|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||at Navy|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||at SMU|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. UConn|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Temple|
|Friday, Nov. 24||vs. South Florida|