Previewing State's I-A OOC opponents, in order of appearance.
There isn't much that I remember about our game against Central Florida in 2007, but one moment that remains unfortunately vivid to this day is their first play from scrimmage, probably because it was such a shock that something so horrible could happen so quickly.
Yeah, sittin' in my seat at the first game! New era! Turnin' the page!
Kickin' off, playin' some D. New era D!
Crap, that guy's got like 15 yards on the first damn play.
*Kevin Smith runs for 80-yard touchdown*
Oh. Well, at least this isn't some sort of all-encompassing omen or something.
Kevin Smith finished the evening with 35 carries and over 200 yards, hardly a landmark performance by either measure. Smith carried the ball 450 times and ran for 2567 yards in 2007 and somehow managed not to die in an explosion of battered joints and tendons. Good for him. That team, which won 10 games and reached the C-USA championship game, stands as George O'Leary's best. In his time at UCF, O'Leary's done a fine job of making the Knights competitive, and doing so quickly. What he hasn't been able to do is establish any sort of year-to-year consistency:
At least not in terms of wins and losses. UCF's run defense has improved in every season since 2005, and they've had enough defensive success in general to suggest that the unit has moved up a tier and is there to stay. They've finished first or second in total defense in C-USA in each of the last three seasons, and they've been solid-to-excellent by national standards as well.
Still, there's a larger pattern at work here, one that's totally inescapable, right? It's 4-8 time again? No. I wish to assign meaning to this coincidence, but alas. Any mystical forces at work would be no match for our own, which is to say that of course they're going to be good--we're playing them. Most outlets expect UCF to build on 2009, edge Southern Miss in the East division, and meet Houston's Playstation Fun Time offense for the league title.
To Central Florida's credit, they're working hard to get the word out for a team that is positioned for a big season:
The UCF Athletic Association has turned to local marketing firm Push. for help developing a multimedia advertising campaign designed to get Orlando residents to take ownership of the Knights.
The marketing firm came up with the simple phrase "UKNIGHT" that will be plastered on billboards, television commercials, radio advertisements and in local movie theaters promoting the upcoming football season. The school also has more grassroots plans to spread the word about the football team expected to contend for a Conference USA championship, distributing lawn signs and flags, coupon books, coasters at local restaurants and car magnets all stamped with UCF's newest marketing logos.
Look, it's a marketing campaign! (It took me an embarrassing amount of time to parse "UKNIGHT" properly.)
Maybe they're ready to turn the corner. A couple of issues first.
Returning starters: 8
Dearly departed: QB Brett Hodges (2438 yds, 17-13 TD-INT, 59.9 comp%), WR Ricky Ross (41 rec., 461 yds, 3 TDs in 2009)
Foremost among those questions: quarterback. Brett Hodges wasn't anything special last season--in fact was quite similar to the guy we saw under center in '07, Kyle Israel--but he solidified the position after an absolutely dreadful 2008 season and gave George O'Leary a passing game he could rely on.
The man expected to replace him is junior Rob Calabrese, who also happens to be the guy primarily responsible for UCF's terrible passing game in 2008. He completed less than 40% of his passes that season and averaged just four yards per attempt. Not even Mike Greco could save them.
It's supposed to be different this time around, of course. Everything's looking up in July. Calabrese is older, presumably wiser, served a valuable year as understudy to Hodges, and should be capable of stifling the emotional swings that hurt him as a freshman. He was better in limited playing time a year ago, completing more than half of his attempts. (Hey, you gotta start somewhere.)
Freshman Jeffrey Godfrey, a three-star QB from Miami who picked UCF over the Canes and Florida State, will push Calabrese in fall camp and figures to get some immediate playing time as the coaching staff sorts out the situation.
If UCF's quarterbacks struggle, it won't be for lack of support. Four offensive linemen return, among them an All-CUSA right tackle and a guard who earned All-Freshman honors. There's a good mix of experience and continuity here, though they do have the tricky task of breaking in a new center.
Three of their top four pass-catchers are back, including Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton, who combined for 81 grabs, 10 touchdowns, and nearly 1200 receiving yards in '09. Sophomore Quincy McDuffie is their answer to T.J. Graham and could prove a scary kick returner in addition to what he does with the offense. Receiving depth is one of the big ways in which this UCF team differs from the last one we saw.
Ground support could be a different story. Brynn Harvey ran for 1109 yards and scored 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2009 but suffered a serious knee injury during spring practice. Earlier this summer, George O'Leary said he thought Harvey would miss the first four games. Now, he's talking about a mid-September return. Unless Harvey's schedule moves up one more time, he will not be available against NC State.
The job falls to Brendan Kelly and Jonathan Davis, a pair of sophomores with 75 carries at the college level between them. Kelly is the bruiser type guy while Davis is the faster dude, sort of a thunder/lightning gaaaaaahKLDSLJFS.............................
Sorry. Rolled my eyes so hard I passed out for a sec. I'm not sure but I think I owe Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber five bucks now.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on these kids until Harvey is ready to go, because O'Leary's UCF offenses are perennial run-first outfits, and I'm guessing Rob Calabrese isn't going to do anything to change the coach's mind on this one.