Central Florida, which joined the ranks of Division 1-A in 1997 hasn't been shy in their scheduling. Last season the Golden Knights went on the road to face Georgia Tech (21-17 loss), Alabama (40-38 win), and played Virginia Tech tough at home in a 44-21 loss. Head Coach Mike Kruzcek has gone 20-13 in three seasons at UCF and continues to keep the strong talent in South Florida headed his way.
Offensively, the Central Florida offense is not be taken lightly, as they averaged over 30 points a game last season and put up 40 points on the road against a very talented, but uninspired Alabama team.
The Golden Knights return just 4 starters, but have immediate help coming on the offensive line with 3 junior college transfers in Alex Mendez (tackle), Johnovan Morgan (guard) and Mike Mabry (center). UCF is still looking for a tailback to carry the load, and quality depth remains a concern throughout most of the depth chart. At running back, sophomore Corey Baker (417 yards in 2000) and two players who redshirted last season, senior Terrance Williams and freshman Alex Haynes will be battling it out for the first team.
Elsewhere in the backfield, sophomore quarterback, Ryan Schneider (6-2, 215) was ranked among the nation's top 35 quarterbacks coming out of high school. Last season Schneider started 7 games and finished the year with 2,334 yards passing, 21 TDs and 11 INTs. He also completed more than 60% of his passes and was tied ninth nationally with passing efficiency rating of 147.0.
Returning with Schneider are several experienced receivers, including Jimmy Fryzel and Tavirus Davis, who combined for 70 catches, 1,051 yards and six touchdowns as backups last fall. Also keep an eye on Tavaris Capers, an all-state receiver out of Miami's Jackson High School. Capers chose UCF over Syracuse, so you know he's got speed and he reportedly has a nose for the football. He is expected to make an impact on offense for Central Florida in a big way this season.
UCF also has two quality tight-ends on their roster with Mario Jackson (6-2, 233), who was a top 50 prospect coming out of highschool and Michael Gaines (6-3, 262), a transfer from the University of Alabama.
Defensively, UCF has a core of experienced players, including four returning starters amoung the front seven from a unit that gave up about 20 points a game last season.
However, the Golden Knights have been beaten up during the offseason in a major way. The loss of defensive ends Wanzell Underwood (family committment) and Don Page who quit in the spring will be huge. Also injured for the first three weeks of fall practice is end Brent Bolar who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. As a result of these three losses, reserve linebacker Dwight Perkins has been moved to end to try and compensate.
The middle of the defense however, will be the strong point for Central Florida. Linebackers Tito Rodriguez and Willie Davis (5-11, 215), end Elton Patterson (6-2, 262), tackle Josh McKibben (6-1, 285), free safety Ricot Joseph, who runs a legitimate 4.4 40-yard dash, and cornerback Travis Fisher (5-10, 175) give the Golden Knights a chance to be competitive against some of the big names on their schedule.
The UCF secondary will be a challenge for the high flying passing attack of the Clemson Tigers. I expect Clemson to open up the game in the option under the direction of new quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain. Look for Woody to either keep the ball or make the last-second pitch to Travis Zachery or Bernard Rambert to keep the chains moving early on. Forcing the Golden Knights to defend the run will help open up the big passing lanes to Kevin Youngblood and Roscoe Crosby in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
How many points the Tigers put on the board will be determined in large part by the quarterback position.
If Woody shows that he can spot open receivers down field, the Tigers could put 45+ points and score on numerous big plays. Central Florida has a legitimate secondary though, and it would be a fair comparison to say their defense is a little more talented than that of a team like N.C. State.
That being said, it will be important in the opening game for someone to step up and fill the shoes of Rod Gardner. There are plenty of options here, but I expect Kevin Youngblood to step it up a notch and have a breakout game of 115 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns.
Defensively, it all starts with the pass rush. Can Javon Bush, Nick Eason, and friends get in there and get enough pressure on Schneider to create chaos on a consistent basis?
With only 4 starters returning on offense, I would say yes they can.
The young Tiger secondary will be tested though, make no mistake about it. Schneider likes to distribute the football to all of his targets, any weak links will quickly be identified by the Central Florida coaching staff. The addition of Braxton K. at the star safety position should help keep the pass happy Central Florida offense in check, but I wouldn't be surprised if UCF puts the ball in the air over 50 times.
As a football fan, this should be a fun game to watch with a lot of fireworks from both teams. The heat really won't be a factor in this early season contest, as Central Florida has been practicing in similar conditions since the beginning of August.
I expect a high scoring game with the Tigers jumping out to an early lead and holding on for 46-24 win.
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