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College Football 2018: 22. UCF Knights

22. UCF Knights

Scott Frost may be gone, but a potent offense should keep UCF relevant nationally, and the clear favorite in the AAC

McKenzie Milton

Offense: The innovative mind of Scott Frost is now in Lincoln, Nebraska, but the Knights' offense should still hum along just fine under new head coach Josh Huepel. Huepel was offensive coordinator at Missouri in 2017, overseeing a pass-heavy offense that was first in the SEC in scoring offense, with 37.5 PPG. Huepel has the perfect trigger man awaiting in junior McKenzie Milton. Milton showed excellent playmaking ability last season and incredible efficiency. He finished in the Top 10 of Heisman voting and finished with over 4,000 yards through the air. With Huepel likely to be chucking the ball all over the field, Milton once more remains a dark horse Heisman threat.

Junior Adrian Killins will lead a backfield that also features big play threat Otis Anderson. Killins had 790 yards rushing last season and managed 10 touchdowns, numbers that could only go up as Huepel and the new staff use him in more creative ways. 

On the outside, Milton will sorely miss top wide out Tre'Quan Smith, who left for the NFL a year early. Smith's absence should push Dredrick Snelson into a featured role, after he had 695 yards in support in '17. Sophomore Gabriel Davis looked good in the spring, and he could emerge as the offense's top deep threat. Seniors Cam Stewart and Tristan Payton also are sure to get in on the action. Tight end is up for grabs, with sophomore Anthony Roberson battling Wisconsin transfer Jake Hescock for the starting job.

The offensive line is the only question mark on this offense, and granted, it is a pretty big one. Senior right tackle Wyatt Miller will provide some much needed stability, but the Knights are very thin, particularly in the interior. Milton showed he could evade the pass rush plenty well last season, something he will likely have to do often in 2018.

It will be tough to match the 48.5 PPG (tops in the country) and 530.5 YPG (fifth), Frost and UCF managed in last year's perfect season, but this unit is far from bare. Milton is going to put up huge numbers again, Killins and Snelson will be important supporting characters, and Huepel is going to sling the ball all over the field. It may not end up being the nation's best in '18, but this UCF offense should at least be in the conversation.

Defense: There are some relative concerns for UCF defensively, a group that was far from perfect anyways in '17 (116th nationally against the pass). They lose their unquestioned leader in linebacker Shaqueem Griffin, who was the heart and soul of the team and an inspiration to plenty, along with shutdown corner Mike Hughes. New DC Randy Shannon was previously head man at Miami and DC at Florida and brings experience, but also a 4-3 scheme that will take some getting used to. 

The defensive front will be in flux due to the different look and some depth concerns. Junior Trysten Hill in going to anchor the interior, but there isn't much experience there. Fellow interior tackle Joey Connors did show the possibility to bat down passes on the line (four pass deflections), and could become a solid contributor as a senior.

Griffin will be missed in the linebacker corps, but senior Pat Jasinski led the team in tackles a season ago, with 104, and looks ready to play a huge role for this defense. Senior outside linebacker Titus Davis could have a breakthrough senior season, while prized recruit Eriq Gilyard could push for early snaps as a true freshman.

Despite the loss of NFL corner Hughes, UCF could actually be pretty good in the back, the opposite of 2017. They were prone to the big play throughout much of last year, but there is so much more experience returning. Sophomore Brandon Moore looks like he could become a No. 1 cornerback, and both safety positions are handled by seniors. Former well-regarded recruit Kyle Gibson is still growing up those expectations, but he led the team in interceptions in '17 with four.

Shannon and the personnel will need some adjustment period, but there is good news. None of UCF's first three opponents are very scary on the offensive end, which will change when they meet FAU September 21st. That should give them time to find new leaders to replace Hughes and Griffin, with Jasinski and Gibson likely to become big X-factors.

Special Teams: Veterans handle both punter and kicker duties, with Matthew Wright handling kicking and Mac Loudermilk at punter. Neither are All-AAC level, but they are far from issues. Adrian Killins is an absolute nightmare in the return game, and could be a huge advantage for this Knights team in this regard.

It is going to hard to completely recapture the magic of 2017, with some tough losses, most notably the architect of it all, Scott Frost. Yet, there is still ample talent up and down this roster for the Knights to still become an interest national threat. The AAC still seems to be their league to own, and beating non-conference foes like Pittsburgh, UNC and FAU should give this more national recognition. Another flawless season will be tough to replicate, but the Knights could still threaten for another New Year's Six bowl.

Team Projections
Projected Record: 11-2 (7-1 AAC, AAC Title)
AAC East Finish: 1st
Offensive MVP: QB McKenzie Milton
Defensive MVP: LB Pat Jasinski
Breakout Player of the Year: CB Brandon Moore

1 comment:

Mike McGowan said...

Enjoying the previews - keep them coming!

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