Quick Start is Key for Knights

With expectations set high in 2008, the Knights were looking to repeat as the C-USA champions. However, a combination of injuries and inconsistent play from young players along with other extraordinary circumstances dashed UCF's dreams of defending their '07 crown. What will it take for the team to rebound this season? For beginners, how about a quick start.

With four freshmen running backs vying to replace the nation's most productive running back, an offensive line that was devastated by graduation and starters leaving early, and a quarterback group that was so pedestrian that the team was forced to start a true freshman, it was evident that the Knights were in trouble early. Winning one of its first four games and two of its first nine, an inexperienced squad lacking veteran leadership had a hard time learning how to win. For the Knights to avoid a 4-8 start this year, the team must get out of the gate early.

After squeaking by South Carolina State in the team's season opener in 2008, the Knights hosted their rivals, USF. The Bulls dominated for a majority of the game but UCF completed a furious comeback to send the game into overtime. The Knights couldn't seal the deal though, as the team couldn't score with their offensive possession.

Had the Knights gotten the benefit of a few controversial calls and had discovered their offensive rhythm a little earlier, the team could have won and the season could have been different. That wasn't the case though. Instead, the team fell flat after expending so much energy and desire in one game.

Instead of building momentum and learning how to win Knights traveled to Boston College and squandered a 7-3 halftime lead after clearly outplaying the Eagles for the first part of the game. The meltdown led to the benching of quarterback Michael Greco.

Then came the collapse in the desert, when every bounce went against the Knights as they were stunned by UTEP at the embarrassing tune of 58-13.

The Knights put up a fight against Miami, ECU and Southern Miss, but last all games by relatively close scores. They were even leading Tulsa, who was ranked at the time, before falling apart in the second half.

These bad memories are only brought up because they are to serve as a gentle reminder of what UCF could have been. Had one or two more bounces of the ball gone UCF's way early on, it's an entirely different season.

Current Knights need to know that going into this year, because a fast start is again essential to the team's success in 2009. With what should be an easy win again Samford, the Knights must set the tone in their season opener and cannot flop around last year like they did against S.C. State.

After opening at home against Samford, UCF will travel to Southern Miss and will then head back home to host Buffalo before heading north to face ECU. That's a difficult four-game stretch for the Knights but UCF must come out of it with at least a 2-2 record. Any less than that and a still relatively young offense might hang its head again. If the Knights to get one tough road win and beat the fast-rising Buffalo Bulls, then there is a lot of reason for optimism.

While it's impossible to look into a crystal ball and say "if blank happens, then blank will happen too," but it would be difficult to see the Knights overcoming a slow start. And conversely, a 3-1 start or better would mean that this UCF team should again be in contention for the C-USA crown.

If last year taught us anything it was these two things. One, the Knights have the talent to hang with anyone, and two, the team as a whole is still too young and not accustomed enough to winning consistently to get over a painfully slow start.

What will your UCF Knights look like at the end of 2009? Odds are, we will have a good idea by the end of September.

Brendan Sonnone is a senior writer for InsideKnights.com, covering the UCF Knights for Scout.com. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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