University of Central Florida Preview

It's been a while since a relatively unknown out of conference ASU opponent, garnered this much respect from coaches and fans alike. Some are calling UCF the first opponent in this 2002 season that can truly gage the strength (and weaknesses) of Dirk Koetter's squad. Let's meet the Golden Knights from Orlando, Florida.

11 starters are lost from the 2001 team who finished 6-5, playing as an independent. This season, UCF is part of the up and coming Mid-America conference. The Golden Knights are entering their seventh year as a Div-I program, and have never played a Pac-10 opponent. Their most famous alum is Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Dante Cullpepper, one of the elite signal callers in the NFL.

Their pro-style offense, similar to ASU's in many ways, will be an early test for the Sun Devils' secondary, who stand to face comparable offenses come Pac-10 play. Junior Quarterback Ryan Schneider is one of eight starting returners on offense. The junior has already passed for 5,257 yards and 38 touchdowns, and is right now ahead of the record pace Cullpepper had in his first two years at UCF. In the Golden Knights season opener (a 27-24 loss to Penn State on the road), Schneider passes for 345 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while completing 69% of his passes. His favorite target is senior Wide Receiver Doug Gabriel who caught 22 passes for 632 yards, and a team leading nine touchdowns in 2001. In his 2002 season debut he caught 11 balls for 153 yards. Fellow senior Jimmy Fryzel started all 11 games last year, and is a competent #2 receiver. Fryzel had 83 yards on five catches at Happy Valley last Saturday. Another weapon in UCF's passing game is sophomore Tavaris Capers who scored the lone passing touchdown against Penn State. Capers had 59 yards on seven catches that day. While the offense's forte in the arial attack, their ground game is quite formidable. Sophomore Alex Haynes had 690 yards and nine touchdowns last season, averaging nearly five yards a carry. So far in the 2002 season he has carried the ball 21 times for 87 yards. An improved offensive line should enhance the running game, although the apparent lack of quality depth at the running back position could spell trouble.

Any defense that has only three starters returning may be in for a brutal and sharp learning curve this season. Nevertheless, some of the few incumbents are quality players. Leading the way is Defensive End Elton Patterson, who is on the Lombardi Award watch list. The senior finished 2001 with 85 tackles, nine sacks, and five forced fumbles, and had nine tackles against Penn State. The leading tackler in that game with 12 was sophomore Stanford Rhule who anchors the linebacker core along with Chris Pilinko. Senior Cornerback Asante Samuel will lead a young and inexperienced secondary. Samuel finished the 2001 season with 41 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. Last Saturday he had four tackles, and one fumble recovery. Other notables are Defensive Linemen Rashad Jeanty and Demarcus Johnson, and Strong Safety Atari Bigby (eight tackles vs. Penn State).

Freshman kicker Matt Prater showed no jitters in his first ever game as a Golden Knight, let alone nationally televised game. He was 3-4 with a long field goal of 53-yards. Senior punter Ryan Flinn is also a first year starter, and did a solid job against PSU averaging nearly 40 yards a punt. Samuel and Gabriel are skillful returners, and having Sophomore Luther Huggins resuming his kick return duties, after averaging 23.1 yards last year, rounds up a solid special team unit that could pose a stiff challenge for the maroon and gold.

ASU Head Coach Dirk Koetter said that teams around the nation aren't rushing to sign up UCF as a non-conference opponent. After the Golden Knights heartbreaking loss against Penn State, suffice to say that the maroon and gold faithful have taken notice. So far, it has been somewhat hard to get a clear read on the 2002 Sun Devils. Thus, their game against the visitors from Orlando should paint a clearer picture. If UCF sulks over their loss in their season opener, then this will be just another tune-up game for ASU. However, if the Golden Knights live up to their reputation, this game could provide answers to many of the burning questions surrounding Koetter's team. Whether the Sun Devil fans like what the answers have instored may be a whole different story…

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