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The powerhouse of the Group of Five, Central Florida enters the 2019-20 season the preferred squad to once again come out on top of the AAC a third straight time and fifth since joining the conference back in 2013. The transition from Scott Frost to Josh Heupel proved to be a seamless one after the Knights went undefeated in the regular season, trounced Memphis in the conference championship game rematch, but then went on to get humbled by LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. However, things could be a bit different this upcoming season with question marks surrounding the team on both sides of the ball. Even so, it’s UCF and the program has proven time and time again that it has it in them to make a mockery of the proceedings if given the chance. With a 9-game season win total at online sportsbooks, another successful campaign is expected to play out in sunny Orlando.
Unfortunately, back-to-back AAC Offensive Player of the Year McKenzie Milton won’t be calling the shots under center this season after suffering a sickening leg injury at the tail end of the regular season. Darriel Mack Jr. started the final two games and let it be known he’s capable of leading the offensive attack. He exploded against Memphis in the title game combining for 407 total yards and 6 TD, but was silenced in a big way by a much better LSU defense in the bowl game. If unable to tote the mail, the Knights scored a huge pickup in grad transfer Brandon Wimbush. He formerly led the Irish to a 13-3 record as a starter throughout his stay in South Bend. The job looks to be the latter’s since Mack broke his ankle in July, but Mack Jr. will be ready at some point. Whoever is under center will have a glut of riches to get the pigskin to with the running back and wide receiver corps very deep and returning loads of experience. The offensive line returns four very experienced starters which should once again have the Knights attack one of the more potent in the country.
Central Florida looks to be set in the back seven defensively. Nate Evans made the most of his opportunity and turned it into All-AAC first–team accolades with 99 tackles on the outside. He’ll spearhead a linebacker corps looking to replace the steady work from Pat Jasinski along with senior Shawn Burgess-Becker and sophomore Eriq Gilyard. The secondary is the strength of the unit with Richie Grant, Nevelle Clarke and Brandon Moore all returning. All three have it in them to become All-AAC performers in hopes of building upon the 14 interceptions accrued last season. The early Achilles Heel will come up front where a bulk of last year’s unit needs to be replaced. That might not be a bad thing considering how bad the Knights were against the run in allowing over 220 yards per game ( No. 117 ). With four of the top six tacklers no longer on the roster, the offense will once again need to make up for the defense’s shortcomings until all three phases jive as one.
As much success the UCF program has endured over the last handful of years, the bar is set very high in Orlando these days. Even with a new quarterback and numerous concerns about the defensive line, UCF is the odds on favorite to win the AAC and likely participate in another New Year’s Six bowl game. It’s a shame the University continues to shy away from big time matchups against Power Five teams in the regular season. Who doesn’t want to see how UCF stacks up against the Alabama’s, Ohio State’s or Oklahoma’s of the world? While Stanford and PITT are upgrades to the schedule, they’re not enough to get the program over the hump in terms of making a College Football Playoff appearance at offshore sportsbooks. Hopefully that changes soon. Either way, UCF will be a darn good football teamthis season but one that might take a few more lumps with Milton not in the mix.