Sunday, May 21, 2017
Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: UCF Knights
UCF showed significant levels of improvement in year one of the Scott Frost era, and I would find it safe to assume to bet on the fact that you should see more of that improvement in year two. The overall outlook in the Eastern Division of the AAC in 2017 shows that several members will be stepping back a bit in 2017, so this is a major opportunity for this program to step up and assert themselves, and I believe that they have the ability to do so.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
McKenzie Milton was showing some flashes by the end of the season for the Knights, and returns as the starter at QB for his sophomore campaign. With Justin Holman gone, the position is all his heading into the fall, and nobody is looking over his shoulder.
Milton will have his top target back in 2017 in Tre'quan Smith, who led the team with 853 yards receiving and five scores last fall, and sophomore Dredrick Nelson was a high school All-American, and will likely replace the departed Taylor Oldham.
Four starters return on the offensive line in LT Aaron Evans, LG Tate Hernley, RG Jordan Johnson, and RT Wyatt Miller. Do not be surprised to see Hernley kick into Center, as he has experience starting there.
PK Matthew Wright connected on 17/22 FG attempts in 2016, and returns as the starter for 2017.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The run game needs to develop some kind of star to help further the development of Milton at QB. Last season, not one back rushed for as much as 500 yards, and that will not cut it again. Jawon Hamilton, Adrian Killins, and Taj McGowan are all battling for carries as we head into the summer.
Behind Smith, there was not much in the way of production among the receivers in 2017, and that is another area of concern for the coaching staff.
Offensive line depth will also be an area of concern as well, as the staff has tried to find a clear cut order of rotation behind the starters that they did not have in 2016.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The defense, which was solid last season, got hit hard by departures after 2016, and will have to rebuild in several areas. Where they are still solid is on the defensive line, where the entire two deep from the bowl game returns. Trysten Hill and Joey Connors will still likely rotate at RDE, and Brendan Hayes is in the mix for playing time there as well. Jamiyus Pittman is a beast at NG, and has 8.5 career sacks. Tony Guerad was a monster off of the edge last season, and returns at DE as well. AJ Wooten is back to backup at NG, while Seyvon Lowry will back up Guerad.
Shaquem Griffin is the lone member of the LB corps to return in 2017, but he is a good one, as he recorded 20 TFLs last season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The entire back seven, save Griffin at LB, needs to be rebuilt this fall. Star CB Shaquille Griffin is gone, and so is much of the rest of the secondary, as not one starter from the bowl game returns. Rashard Causey is the main leader to replace Griffin at CB, but played in just six games last fall. Nevelle Clark is in the lead to start at CB opposite Causey, but played in a reserve/nickel role last season. Tre Neal and Kyle Gibson are the leading candidates for the Safety jobs, but Gibson played corner most of last season.
Chequan Burkett, Pat Jasinski, and Titus Davis are all in line for the open LB jobs, but were all reserves last season. Burkett and Jasinski got solid playing time, but Davis played in just six games.
A new punter will need to be identified as well, as Caleb Houston moves on. Mac Loudermilk is a rugby styled punter, but averaged just 35 yards per punt. He is the leading candidate for the job as of now.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 FIU, 9/9 Memphis, 9/16 Georgia Tech, 9/23 at Maryland, 9/30 Maine, 10/7 at Cincinnati, 10/14 East Carolina, 10/21 at Navy, 11/4 at SMU, 11/11 U Conn, 11/18 at Temple, 11/24 USF
The Knights have enough on offense to carry this team if a running game can be found, and some decent receivers present themselves out of this crop. The line should be more than good enough to get the work done in the trenches, and they have a solid kicker as well.
The real issue here will be on defense, where the entire back seven must be rebuilt, save Griffin. If that project cannot get off the ground in the early part of camp and the season, my projections could all be moot. Defense and the run game will be the most major areas of concern here, as is the schedule from 10/7 through 11/14, where the Knights play three road games in four weeks.