OrlandoSports.Net UCF Knights
2015 UCF Football Preview
Jul 23, 2015
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Justin Homan

UCF head coach George O’leary has double duty this year, pulling the strings not only as the head football coach, but also adding the title of Athletic Director for the Knights. Regardless, he is a football coach first and will continue to mentor his likely protégée in Brent Key throughout the season, monitoring practices like a hawk all fall. If the Knights want to have a successful 2015 campaign this fall, they will need Key’s offensive line to show major development from last year.

The skill pieces were there – senior wide receivers JJ Worton, Rannell Hall, Breshad Perriman (a first round pick) and Jackie Williams were a major help for a first year starting sophomore quarterback Justin Holman. Holman piled up 2952 passing yards, 23 TDs and 14 INTs, which are impressive numbers for a first year quarterback. Unfortunately for Holman, the running game never got off the ground as sophomore RB William Stanback battled turf toe all season and sophomore Dontravious Wilson slowly improved throughout the season, but each running back averaged a mediocre 3.7 YPC. UCF had the potential last year to repeat as an access bowl team, but an offensive line filled with sophomores and freshmen failed to give Holman sufficient time to throw the ball or create running lanes for the running backs to get to the second level of opposing defenses.

UCF’s defense last year called themselves the “No fly zone,” and they were a moderately talented group, headlined by redshirt sophomore Jacoby Glenn who amassed seven interceptions, and a superb tackling machine in safety Clayton Geathers. Meanwhile, a talented senior linebacker in Terrance Plummer helped stuff the run game and captain the defense. Between UCF’s skill position players and solid defense, the 2014 campaign should be viewed as a positive year, repeating as conference champions (albeit shared with Memphis and Cincinnati because of an inexcusable loss to UConn); however, it was a year of what could have been. Wins over Penn State and UConn would have meant an access bowl for the Knights, instead they lost a tight St. Pete bowl game to a red hot NC State Wolfpack team. Now UCF must rebuild and retool for the 2015 season with brand new wide receivers, defensive backs, and linebackers. 2015 will be the season to see if UCF is reloading or rebuilding.

The good news for the Knights is that experience seems to be more important in the trenches. UCF’s offensive line that struggled last year needs to show major signs of improvement, while its defensive line will be a major strength. The latter unit will be led by redshirt senior Thomas Niles, who had 7.5 sacks last year, and look for sophomore Jamiyus Pittman to be an impact player as a defensive tackle. As a freshman he had two sacks and eleven solo tackles. UCF lost redshirt senior Miles Pace, and will look for Luke Adams to vastly improve from last season’s performance. A JUCO player may take over that starting spot if he does not perform.

As for the offensive line, UCF will have to decide if redshirt senior Joey Grant can rebound from an injury riddled junior campaign or if Jason Rae is the future. Freshman Chavis Dickey filled in nicely last year and is a shoe in to be a starter, but after that the line is slightly unknown. Will redshirt freshman Wyatt Miller surpass one of the starters from last season? Will Tarik Cook, Micah Anderson, Tate Hernly or another player be a reliable starter? An offensive line works as a cohesive unit and for a winning year for 2015 it is imperative that UCF ensures the offensive line does not become a revolving door again.

The new faces on the team will be vast on the skill side of the ball, but one thing is for sure: Justin Holman is the first string QB. As reported in spring practices, he has a clear advantage over Tyler Harris, while Pete Dinovo switched positions to wide receiver after a disastrous start against Penn State. Nick Patti will be the second string QB, but his height severely limits his ceiling as the signal caller. If Holman were to get injured look for UCF to try and redshirt newcomer freshman QB Bo Schneider; as many in the program eye him as the future after Holman. However, if Holman were to get hurt, UCF might have to burn that redshirt. Running back is not quite as clear – the job is William Stanback’s to lose, but look for Wilson to earn a fair share of carries as well. If neither produce, freshman Taj McGowan impressed in spring drills and practices before an injury halted him. If Stanback has one bad series in the opener against FIU, do not be surprised to see one of the other running backs out there for the next series.

Wide receiver is the biggest question mark on the offensive side of the ball. Jordan Akins was the only returning contributor from last year, with 12 catches for 135 yards. He is an imposing physical specimen but lacks breakaway speed to be a home run threat. Redshirt Sophomore Pete Dinovo is transitioning from QB to WR and is not a clear-cut starter, while redshirt freshman Tre’Quan Smith has impressed in practices and may be the favorite to be an instant impact player this year. What would not be surprising is to see a freshman WR coming in this fall to take that third starting position after Smith and Akins. Tristian Payton was a four star recruit out of high school and could fill in nicely as a slot receiver. D’erren Wilson and Cameron Stewart also have good measurable attributes, had P5 offers, and could earn playing time as true freshmen.

Defensively, filling the void left by Terrance Plummer at linebacker will be difficult. UCF is hopeful that UVA transfer Demeitre Brim will help fill the gap while junior Justin McDonald, redshirt sophomore Chequan Burkett, and senior Dominic Spencer all battle for the two starting spots. Burkett earned some starts last season, while McDonald earned a couple his freshman year (injury issues held him out last year). Dominic Spencer has the most experience and could be the favorite to start in game one, but it really is an unknown. Who will take over as the vocal leader on defense?

The secondary will be replacing some talented players in Jacoby Glenn and Clayton Geathers, both who are on NFL rosters right now. Fortunately, UCF appears to be replacing talent with more talent based on observations from spring practices and recruiting profiles. Redshirt freshman Chris Williams and redshirt freshman Kyle Gibson both held multiple P5 offers and are promising athletes who could enter the starting lineup during the season. Unfortunately, Williams was recently shot in the arm during the offseason and it is unclear at what point in his recovery that he will be during the start of the season or if there will be any disciplinary repercussions as well.

At the safety position look for freshman Michael Rogers to make an immediate impact. He did not academically qualify for 2014 but he improved his test scores to qualify for 2015 and UCF hopes to reap the benefits from his athleticism immediately. He also played RB in high school, but his future is most likely to be on the defensive side of the ball. Sophomore Jordan Franks slid over to safety as well, but his athleticism is not at the same level as the aforementioned players. Redshirt junior Drico Johnson has the most experience coming into this season and might be a favorite to start early in the secondary. Shaquill Griffin, D.J. Killings and Jared Henry are also looking for an opportunity to start-they might be the favorites to start early because of prior game experience. It will be enjoyable to watch all of these players duke it out during fall practices to earn starting spots.
Special teams – Caleb Houston will have one more year of punting duties – he was an average punter last year. Matt Wright will take over the kicking duties from a reliable Shawn Moffitt.
Lastly Holman at quarterback does have room for improvement-his cannon of an arm can help fit the football in the tightest of windows, but his touch and accuracy will need to improve with all of the newcomers at wide receiver.

Game by Game Prediction
Thursday, Sept. 3rd 6:00 PM Vs FIU: Win-FIU has been a dumpster fire since Mario Cristobal was let go by the program several years ago. A loss to start the season to FIU would be an incredibly disconcerting start to the 2015 season. TV: CBS Sports Network
Saturday, Sept. 12th 10:30 PM (ET) @ Stanford: Loss-Stanford has morphed into a perennial top 25 team. They are led by a talented QB in senior Kevin Hogan, but their real strength is their defense and offensive line. Traveling to Palo Alto and beating a preseason top 25 team will be a real challenge for UCF, especially a team that plays a similar style to UCF. UCF seems to have more success against spread type teams rather than smash mouth football, which Stanford excels at. TV: FS1
Saturday, Sept. 19th 6:00 PM Vs Furman: Win-Have to win against a FCS school, and they went 3-9 with an FCS schedule. Should be a laugher to get players experience. TV: ESPN3
Saturday, Sept 26th TBA @ South Carolina: Loss-I give UCF a bigger chance to upset South Carolina given their rough season last year, but still do not think it will happen. USC also has to replace a lot of starters, but will UCF have their team identity figured out yet? History says probably not.
Saturday, Oct. 3rd TBA @ Tulane: Win-Last year UCF struggled to beat a very poor Tulane team, but UCF played one of its worst games of the year. If UCF did not need to be firing on all cylinders last year, there is no reason why they should lose to a bottom feeder American Athletic Team for the first conference game of the year.
Saturday, Oct. 10th TBA Vs UConn: Win-UCF should play motivated, angry football to try and avenge last year’s loss in Connecticut. Two years ago at home UCF clubbed UConn in a 62-17 blowout. Oh, and someone gets to win a trophy or something and there’s some kind of imaginary rivalry dreamt of by a nutcase named Bob Diaco.
Saturday, Oct. 17th TBA @ Temple: Win-Temple has shown signs of improvement the past few seasons with a strong defense and decent QB play but UCF dominated last year in Orlando. The game this year is in Philly, but it is in the middle of October so weather should not be an issue. As long as UCF has their starting roster in line by this game they should win, but Temple does have the talent to pull off the win if UCF does not show up with their A game.
Saturday, Oct. 24th TBA Vs Houston: Win-Another 50/50 game similar to Temple. Home field advantage should help the Knights and it should be the biggest home game of the year. Houston is recruiting some serious talent right now and definitely could beat UCF. This game is really a toss-up. UCF will have to contain Ward Jr. much better than they did last year, as they were less than a yard away from losing in Houston. This is also UCF’s homecoming game.
Saturday, Oct. 31st TBA @ Cincinnati: Loss-Cincinnati and Memphis are the other co-defending AAC champions, and UCF has to travel to face a dual threat QB to what could be a chilly Cincinnati on Halloween. Between not having home field advantage and the talent that Cincinnati returns, UCF will have to play near perfect football to win. Gunner Kiel is a game changer that UCF’s young secondary will have trouble containing.
Saturday, Nov. 7th TBA @ Tulsa: Win-UCF should rebound with a win against a very poor Tulsa team but UCF has not fared well in recent history when traveling to Tulsa. This could be a trap game similar to UConn last year. Weather might also be a factor come November in Oklahoma.
Thursday, Nov 19th 7:30 PM Vs. ECU: Win-ECU has to replace their starting quarterback and leading WR who accounted for the majority of ECU’s offense last year. That combined with home field advantage should result in a win for the Knights. There should be a strong student crowd for this game as long as UCF has a winning record at this point. UCF also benefits from a bye before playing on a short week.
Friday, Nov. 27th TBA Vs. USF: Win-USF will continue to be an AAC bottom feeder and Willie Taggart will in all likelihood see his season end with another loss to his nearby rival. Look for UCF to improve to 3-4 in their series against the Bulls. USF lost their leading receiver in Andre Davis and they still have not answered their QB woes. A pair of talented transfers will have to sit out the season as well. The black Friday rivalry will continue at Brighthouse Networks stadium in what should be a sellout crowd to end the regular season.

12/05/15: AAC Championship Game

AAC Predictions:
East Division Champ: Cincinnati (8-0)
West Division Champ: Memphis (7-1)
AAC Champ: Cincinnati

UCF Finish: 9-3 (7-1) (Strong possibility of 8-4/5-2)
Bowl bound, but not Access Bowl bound. Most likely bowl: Miami Beach Bowl or Orlando Cure Bowl

Final Notes:
Although the nonconference home schedule does not provide any power five FBS teams, there will be several home games that should be well attended: Houston, ECU, and USF. With USF you obviously have the rivalry game, and with Houston and ECU you have the Conference USA history and rivalries that have spanned over the past decade in games that are always neck and neck. These are exciting games that any football fan from the Orlando area should attempt to attend in person.

Brighthouse Networks Stadium is adding on an Academic Center and more chair-back premium seating with the beach themed East Side Club; both spearheaded by UCF’s former AD, Todd Stansbury. The club should give the stadium some needed character and much needed shade for the fans on the east side of the stadium. (And booze). The stadium is also adding flat screen weatherproof televisions throughout the concourse to improve the game day experience, which should be in place this season or next season at the latest.

There are a lot of question marks entering this season regarding conference expansion (Big12) and how UCF can prove that they belong in a P5 conference. This is a huge season for the Knights to prove that they are now consistent winners like a Boise State and BYU and prove that their roster is reloading and not rebuilding. The 9-3 prediction for UCF could easily become 7-5 with losses to Houston and Temple if UCF struggles to replace a myriad of starters. Even with those potential losses, UCF is still heading to a bowl game but it is imperative that they do not fall to ECU, USF, Tulsa, or UConn in league play this year. If UCF’s OL can gel, open up running lanes for their running backs and take pressure off of Holman it should be another winning year for the hometown Knights.

About author

Profile photo of Daniel Glass

Daniel Glass

I currently work for my family business in New Jersey and attended UCF from 2007-2011. I graduated with a degree in general business and when not working I am watching college football or the NFL. I am not an experienced writer, but have always been curious to test the turbulent waters of writing about my favorite team. Follow me on twitter @Dgyn14.

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