UCF finished the 2012 season, their last as a member of Conference USA, with a 10-4 record. The Knights lost the Conference USA Championship game to Tulsa. UCF began spring practice on March 13 and this year’s spring game is slated for Saturday, April 13. The Orlando Sentinel’s UCF beat reporter Paul Tenorio breaks down the Knights for us in our Central Florida 2013 spring preview.
When you look back at UCF’s season, I think you have to consider it a success. They had a tough road loss at undefeated Ohio State, and a loss to Mizzou that probably was one they’d like to have back. Then two close losses to Tulsa in the C-USA.
Could it have been a much better season? Absolutely. But overall, the Knights went 10-4 with a bowl win, played for a conference championship and found their starting QB for the next two years. It was a strong season.
I think you have to consider the offense the strongest part of the team right now, namely the passing game.
The Knights bring back 3 of 5 starters on the offensive line, a very promising QB in Blake Bortles, and four of their top five receivers from last season, including one in Breshad Perriman that could be really special.
Bortles showed his potential throughout the year, and especially in the bowl game, and he has a chance to be very good this season. He threw 25 touchdown passes and had more than 3,000 yards through the air last year. More importantly he had no picks in his final six games.
Right now, that’s the strength, and UCF expects to seize upon it and perhaps open up the offense a little bit more in the fall.
UCF will have significantly less depth than last year at running back with the graduation of Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey. Miami transfer Storm Johnson will now be slated to assume a much bigger role in the offense. Last year as a backup he rushed for 507 yards and four touchdowns on 113 carries.
UCF loses five veteran starters including all-conference DE Troy Davis, CB A.J. Bouye and S Kemal Ishmael. Though there ultimately could be more talent, there is a lot of inexperience that is going to be plugged in on the defensive side of the ball.
Linebacker is a big question mark as the Knights look to replace starters Ray Shipman and Jonathan Davis, who combined for 190 tacklles last year. How they are able to fill those holes, and the play of guys like OLB Willie Mitchell, will be crucial in the fall. This spring is about finding the answers there, and starting to sort out the starters and where exactly they line up.
When you look at the secondary, a number of sophomores and freshmen will play important roles at corner and safety. Defensive line is young, too, but they have more size and athleticism up front overall.
It’s a big season for UCF. Despite all that’s gone on in the Big East, this new conference will still field some strong teams and a bigger challenge than this program has seen. Games against teams like Louisville, Rutgers and UConn will provide a true test, and they will get a chance to showcase their program on ESPN.
The year is pivotal because it’s a chance to demonstrate some consistency after a 10-win season. If they can sort things out defensively and find the right players, this could be a very good team. But they do need to identify those players this spring and summer.
UCF is certainly talented enough to challenge for a title, and in many respects they have a conference schedule that allows them to do so. That they have a returning starter at quarterback, and one who can be a difference maker, creates even more intrigue. It’s been a while since that’s happened at UCF.
We’ll see if they can cash in.
For more UCF football analysis and commentary you can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulTenorio.