Central Florida had a hell of a 2013 season that no one really saw coming. No one thought that the Knights were going to win the AAC. Yet, they went to Louisville, came from behind, and won in a dramatic manner.
In the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, most people thought that the Knights were going to get roughed up by Baylor. Yet, it was UCF that put up points all night long. The 2014 season now rolls around with UCF in the position of not being the conference favorite yet again. There are big hurdles to climb, but such is life when your quarterback was a top-five NFL draft pick. The Knights have a great shot at winning The American again. Their success last season has put them on the media’s radar in the early-season polls. No other team outside of the power five conferences received more votes than UCF.
There are going to be opportunities for UCF again. There are also some distractions flying around the program. For one, UCF may or may not be playing in Ireland. The Knights are supposed to leave for Ireland in the next few days, but a volcano in Iceland could change the whole trip. As of this writing on the evening of Aug. 24, the game is scheduled to be played across the pond.
Second, there were rumors flying that coach George O’Leary would resign as soon as after the season opener. O’Leary refuted those reports, but it was another off the field distraction. Winning brings change and it brings distractions. One of the challenges of the season is going to be dealing with expectations and the pressure of past success. We’ve seen team after team crater after hitting the highest of highs the year before. Time will tell if Central Florida will be able to handle the adversity or be in for a rude awakening.
2013 Record: 12-1, Fiesta Bowl champions
About 2013: UCF got off to a great start in 2013 with lopsided wins in its first two games, before hitting the grinder for the biggest three. For the first time ever, UCF beat a Big Ten team when it went on the road to Happy Valley, opened up a 14-point lead in the third quarter, and held on to beat Penn State, 34-31. The following week, UCF fell down 28-10 to South Carolina. A rally in the last 10 minutes got the score to 28-25, but UCF couldn’t recover an onside kick. The rally died and UCF took its only loss of the season.
The following game saw the first of UCF’s comeback victories. The Knights scored on two fumble returns in the last two minutes to knock off Memphis, 24-17.
Then came the big one.
Thirteen days later, UCF went on the road to Louisville in a de facto league championship game. Things went terribly for UCF, as the Knights were down 28-7 with 7:52 left in the third quarter. However, great teams overcome adversity. UCF was a great team. It scored with 4:50 left in the quarter and tied the score with 30 seconds left. The Knights took the lead with 7:36 left. After Louisville re-took the lead, Blake Bortles led a game-winning touchdown drive, completing a 2-yard scoring pass to Jeff Godfrey for the major win.
The heart attack Knights came back into the picture after a lopsided win against Connecticut. Up 19-14 against Houston, UCF held the Cougars out of the end zone on four plays from the 7-yard line in the final minute of regulation. The following week at Temple, the Knights stunned the Owls with an amazing one-handed catch to tie the game, then a 64-yard bomb to set up a last-second field goal to win. UCF beat the absolute hell out of Rutgers before barely scraping by once again to close the regular season. The Knights played poorly but managed to defeat South Florida, 23-20, on a 52-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left to win the league title. In a meaningless game (UCF was going to the BCS no matter what), Bortles ran for a 15-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left to beat SMU. UCF then hung 556 yards on Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl beatdown few pundits expected.
All Conference Selections – According to Phil Steele
OL – Torrian Wilson
LB – Terrance Plummer
DB – Jacoby Glenn
DB – Clayton Geathers
PR – JJ Worton
Players to Watch
In what was a bit of a surprise, George O’Leary tabbed redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo the starting quarterback. He won the job over Justin Holman, the backup in 2013. DiNovo was a three-star recruit in high school. One of the biggest developments of the season is going to be what happens with DiNovo. One would think that he wouldn’t be given the reins if it wasn’t for the long haul. There is a new face here, and a familiar face in a new role with the following player.
105 attempts, 443 yards, 4.2 per carry, 6 TDs; 15 receptions, 186 yards, 1 TD
William Stanback was the primary backup to Storm Johnson a year ago. Stanback had his major moments. He had 65 yards on 9 carries and 2 TDs in the Louisville win. In the 19-14 victory over Houston, Stanback had 74 yards on 9 carries and two more TDs. Nearly half of his season total in yards and nearly all of his TDs. The biggest question with someone like Stanback is: Can he handle the full load? The stats in 2013 weren’t that impressive, even with the two huge performances. His ability as a receiver would be interesting to exploit. Losing a potential NFL running back and an NFL quarterback are huge hurdles. At least Stanback and DiNovo have each other for consultation on their difficult tasks.
57 receptions, 886 yards, 5 TDs; 121 rushing yards, 1 TD
Rannell Hall was the Knights’ top target in 2013. He threw down four 100-yard performances. He saved his best games for the biggest competitions. Hall had 8 catches for 142 yards and 2 TDs against South Carolina and 4 catches for 113 yards and 2 TDs against Baylor. His flair for the big stage is there. Hall had at least 3 catches in 12 games. His season high in yardage and receptions was a 9-catch, 159-yard outing against Temple, a game in which he made the catch to set up the winning field goal. Hall is a potential home run when he catches the ball. He had four games with long receptions of at least 50 yards.
47 receptions, 721 yards, 7 TDs; 13 punt returns, 157 yards, 12.1 average.
You may remember Worton from (and for) this:
Worton was honored by Steele as a punt returner, as well as a later team receiver. Worton and Hall made a nearly unstoppable combination in 2013. Worton had four 100-yard receiving games of his own. He had 101 yards and a TD against Penn State, 119 and a TD against UConn and 117 against Rutgers. His biggest game was against Temple, when he had 10 receptions for 179 yards and 3 TDs. He had himself a season with that one. Hall and Worton should be great gifts for the young quaterback.
Torrian Wilson started all 11 games in which he played in 2013 at left tackle. He started all 14 games in 2012. He’s the best lineman on the UCF roster. He’s the rock on which the rest of the line shall be built. The UCF line is in some transition, so the Knights will need Wilson to be healthy and holding down the left side all year.
110 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 6 break ups, 8 passes defended
Terrance Plummer was a first team All-AAC selection a year ago, as well as the Fiesta Bowl defensive MVP and an honorable mention All-American by numerous sources. He was also on the All-AAC Academic Team, which is almost a higher honor. He was the leading tackler on the Knights, the leader in tackles for loss, and the overall leader. Terrance Plummer is the kind of guy you want to anchor your defense. He was the cornerstone of a very solid defense in 2013. If the Knights are going to reach the heights of last year, a big senior year from Plummer would go a long way in helping that cause.
52 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 15 break ups, 17 passes defended.
Jacoby Glenn had a hell of a 2013, as you can see by the numbers. The most exciting part of his season was that he was only a freshman. Glenn was an FWAA Freshman All-American, a first team All-AAC selection, and was UCF’s defensive back of the year. He was also an all-conference academic team member. The only game Glenn missed was the Temple game, the game in which UCF’s secondary was shredded. Glenn is joined in the very good UCF secondary by the following player:
100 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 10 break ups, 12 passes defended
Clayton Geathers was the second leading tacklers on the Knights as a junior. The whole secondary returns for UCF and it should be a significant strength. Getting the top two tacklers back is huge; getting your best corner and best safety back is just as big. Geathers and Glenn were the two best Bulls in terms of breaking up passes and defending them. Geathers was the most improved defensive player at UCF in 2013. More improvement in 2014 could put him in the pros. It would definitely put the UCF defense in the position of being one of the best in the league, maybe even the country.
August 30 – vs Penn State (neutral site – Ireland, a really neutral site)
September 13 – at Missouri
September 20 – vs Bethune-Cookman
October 2 – at Houston
October 9 – vs BYU
October 18 – vs Tulane
October 25 – vs Temple
November 1- at Connecticut
November 14 – vs Tulsa
November 22 – vs SMU
November 28 – at South Florida
December 4 – at East Carolina
Penn State – Houston – BYU – Tulsa – East Carolina
SEC Network Games
UCF’s schedule is not easy. The schedule starts hellaciously compared to the competition other ‘gate crashers’ are facing. Penn State, at Missouri, at Houston, and BYU in the first five games is a tough slate to face out of the box. Missouri is a road game at a preseason top 25 (24th in the AP poll) team. Houston provides a “trickier than it looks” challenge. That game is on a Thursday night. That place should be rocking. Plus, Houston is considered one of The American’s favorites. The following Thursday brings on BYU, another group of Cougars.
The conference schedule gets a lot easier because the middle and bottom of the conference aren’t that good. UCF should be able to bank wins as it turns into the final two games of the season. The Knights travel to rival USF the day after Thanksgiving. UCF ends the year with another tricky road game. The Knights play at East Carolina on a Thursday night. The last time East Carolina played TV games on weeknights, on a national spotlight, had to be in the olden days of Conference USA. That’s another big-target road game UCF will face.
Conspicuously absent from the schedule is conference favorite Cincinnati. Thanks for that one, AAC schedule makers.