2013 UCF football's 10 things to know: Can the Knights find consistency in the AAC?

USA TODAY Sports

No, UCF is not taking on a massive upgrade in its new conference. Still, it's a sign of accomplishment that the Knights are already one of the more stable programs in the American. The question for 2013 is whether they can avoid a bit of a defensive step backwards after the loss of some key pieces.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. In the American, only Cincinnati and Louisville were better

It isn't very pretty. The school colors are basically black, white, and drab. The team plays in a stadium that is both a) in Orlando and b) impressive but sterile in a hasn't-been-broken-in-yet kind of way. The offense has become consistently decent, the defense consistently slightly-better-than-decent. Recruiting is neither amazing nor terrible, really. And the coach, most known for fudging a résumé, has basically figured out how to win a lot of games by being reasonably good at a lot of things. No innovation, no high-flying offense, no experimental defense, just decent, athletic, hard-hitting football that has, with some setbacks, trended upward for a while now.

Lord knows it isn't very pretty. But it is effective, and it got UCF the conference upgrade folks had been predicting for a while.

There's no reason to think UCF won't be ready for the upgrade either. For one thing, the American is only so much better than last year's Conference USA. It's not like the Knights are jumping to the SEC here, or even the ACC. For another thing, UCF has already been one of the better programs in its new conference. Only four of the AAC's 10 current teams have ranked in the F/+ top 40 twice in the last three years: Cincinnati (23rd in 2011, 26th in 2012), Rutgers (30th in 2011, 39th in 2012), USF (40th in 2010, 35th in 2011), and UCF (33rd in 2010, 36th in 2012).

Now, the Knights have made a habit of the old "two steps forward, one step back" method of progress. UCF went 4-8 and ranked 95th in 2006, then went 10-4 and ranked 35th in 2007. The Knights fell to 4-8 and 88th in 2008, improved to 8-5 and 72nd in 2009, then 11-3 and 33rd in 2010, then fell back to 5-7 and 52nd in 2011. Last season's jump back to 10-4 and 36th was relatively predictable, but so is an ensuing tumble. Can the Knights stay in the upper half of this new conference despite losing quite a few solid pieces on defense?

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 10-4 | Adj. Record: 10-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 36
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
30-Aug at Akron 56-14 W 31.7 - 17.8 W
8-Sep at Ohio State 16-31 L 33.1 - 29.2 W
15-Sep Florida International 33-20 W 31.6 - 23.3 W
29-Sep Missouri 16-21 L 26.4 - 33.2 L
4-Oct East Carolina 40-20 W 38.8 - 25.3 W
13-Oct Southern Miss 38-31 W 25.6 - 39.9 L
20-Oct at Memphis 35-17 W 30.9 - 27.1 W
27-Oct at Marshall 54-17 W 45.5 - 12.9 W
3-Nov SMU 42-17 W 49.3 - 25.6 W
10-Nov at UTEP 31-24 W 27.7 - 30.2 L
17-Nov at Tulsa 21-23 L 20.5 - 25.1 L
24-Nov UAB 49-24 W 39.9 - 39.2 W
1-Dec at Tulsa 27-33 L 30.3 - 24.7 W
21-Dec vs. Ball State 38-17 W 34.2 - 20.6 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 35.4 25 22.1 26
Adj. Points Per Game 33.3 33 26.7 56

2. Shuffling worked

There were some peaks and valleys along the way -- holding Ball State to 288 yards and Marshall to 364 yards in 98 plays is a peak, allowing 359 to Southern Miss and 599 to UAB is quite a valley -- but for the most part UCF's defense was consistently solid last season, better than many but not elite by any means. The offense, meanwhile, was decent over the first half of the season, and quite a bit better after some shuffling. After seven games O'Leary juggled some pieces around on the offensive line, and the payoff was pretty clear.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): UCF 31.2, Opponent 26.5 (plus-4.7)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): UCF 35.3, Opponent 25.5 (plus-9.8)

Tulsa's solid defense was able to get a nice read on the Knights, but UCF virtually dominated every other defense on the schedule late in the season, at times with the run, the pass, or both.

That's encouraging considering the pieces that return. Running back Latavius Murray is now an Oakland Raider, but the Knights return a steady quarterback, a potential stud running back (with "potential" being the key word), four to six strong receivers, and a line that should still be at least decent. Really, this year's questions could come on defense. O'Leary is a good defensive coach, and UCF has not ranked worse than 53rd in Def. F/+ in the F/+ era (2007-12 for offensive and defensive data), but the Knights could sink at least a bit with most of last year's pass rushers now gone.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 57 40 24 45
RUSHING 45 19 14 31
PASSING 67 48 44 54
Standard Downs 40 39 41
Passing Downs 35 11 50
Redzone 26 27 28
Q1 Rk 26 1st Down Rk 51
Q2 Rk 50 2nd Down Rk 27
Q3 Rk 10 3rd Down Rk 23
Q4 Rk 74

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Blake Bortles 6'4, 230 Jr. *** (5.6) 251 399 3,059 62.9% 25 7 23 5.5% 6.9
Tyler Gabbert 6'0, 195 Jr. **** (5.8) 2 4 25 50.0% 1 0 1 20.0% 4.4
Rob Calabrese


2 4 36 50.0% 0 0 0 0.0% 9.0
Pete DiNovo 6'1, 207 Fr. *** (5.6)








3. Go make a play, Blake

Latavius Murray was one of college football's more underrated backs last season. Miami transfer Storm Johnson was expected by some to (sorry) storm away with the starting job, but while Johnson almost certainly had more in the moves and highlights department, Murray was just better. He missed a few early games and faded late in the season, but he was incredible in the middle, rushing 85 times for 620 yards and eight touchdowns in a four game span from Memphis to UTEP. He was one of the more reliable pass-catching backs in college football, and he had better explosiveness than one would expect from a 6'3, 230-pounder.

UCF indeed missed Murray at the beginning of the season, but Johnson and, to a lesser extent, Brynn Harvey, each had their moments. UCF attempted balance on standard downs, and it worked reasonably well.

But the UCF offense seemed to get better and more efficient when it fell behind schedule. Blake Bortles' overall passing numbers were only decent -- 6.9 yards per attempt (including sacks), No. 44 ranking in Passing S&P+ -- but your numbers are going to be weighed down when you are throwing a disproportionately high amount of time on passing downs, and that's what UCF asked him to do in 2012. He got sacked quite a bit because of this, but he was quite efficient at passing to the chains on second- or third-and-long. And he was only a sophomore. This is a very good thing, though you still want him facing the smallest possible number of passing downs.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Latavius Murray RB 198 1,106 5.6 7.2 15 +18.6
Storm Johnson RB 6'0, 215 Jr. **** (5.9) 113 507 4.5 6.0 4 -3.9
Blake Bortles QB 6'4, 230 Jr. *** (5.6) 64 431 6.7 5.4 8 +11.8
Brynn Harvey RB 59 249 4.2 3.9 2 -2.0
Quincy McDuffie WR 19 170 8.9 6.7 3 +7.6
Rob Calabrese QB/WR 15 57 3.8 1.0 0 -1.2
Cedric Thompson RB 6'0, 226 So. ** (5.3) 13 62 4.8 1.7 1 -0.6
Micah Reed RB 5'10, 206 Fr. *** (5.6)





Mario Mathis FB 6'1, 234 Fr. *** (5.6)





Will Stanback RB 5'11, 205 Fr. ** (5.2)





4. Keep moving forward, Storm

The offense definitely ticked up a few notches after O'Leary's midseason shuffling on the line. Basically, the changes consisted of moving Jordan McCray from right guard to left guard, moving Justin McCray from right tackle to right guard, and starting Phil Smith at right tackle. Smith is gone, as is all-conference center Jordan Rae, but between the McCray brothers and left tackle Torrian Wilson, UCF still has the makings of a decent line. Now Storm Johnson just has to take advantage of it. A Miami transfer, Johnson has all the explosiveness and moves you would want from the running back position; Murray overtook him, however, because of general consistency and the ability to move forward. Johnson is an incredible-looking specimen, but he could occasionally get in trouble dancing around or reversing field. Still only a junior, he has incredible upside, and the line could help him reach it.

If Johnson gets hurt, however, it is unclear what will happen at the running back position. With Murray and Brynn Harvey gone, the next most experienced back had 13 carries last year. Freshmen Will Stanback and Micah Reed have apparently both impressed in fall camp, but they are still freshmen; counting on those is often foolish.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
J.J. Worton WR 6'2, 211 Jr. NR 74 44 594 59.5% 8.0 19.0% 63.5% 8.1 75.6
Rannell Hall WR 6'1, 196 Jr. ** (5.4) 56 35 631 62.5% 11.3 14.4% 51.8% 11.9 80.4
Jeff Godfrey WR 5'11, 190 Sr. *** (5.7) 56 39 429 69.6% 7.7 14.4% 41.1% 7.5 54.6
Quincy McDuffie WR 49 28 350 57.1% 7.1 12.6% 55.1% 7.5 44.6
Breshad Perriman WR 6'2, 209 So. ** (5.4) 38 26 388 68.4% 10.2 9.8% 44.7% 10.2 49.4
Latavius Murray RB 33 27 231 81.8% 7.0 8.5% 57.6% 7.1 29.4
Justin Tukes TE 6'5, 257 Jr. *** (5.5) 17 10 107 58.8% 6.3 4.4% 70.6% 6.8 13.6
Josh Reese WR 6'0, 184 Jr. **** (5.8) 15 11 122 73.3% 8.1 3.9% 46.7% 8.2 15.5
Storm Johnson RB 6'0, 215 Jr. **** (5.9) 14 10 20 71.4% 1.4 3.6% 57.1% 1.4 2.5
Dontravius Floyd HB 10 7 89 70.0% 8.9 2.6% 90.0% 8.6 11.3
Billy Giovanetti FB 10 6 65 60.0% 6.5 2.6% 90.0% 9.0 8.3
Brynn Harvey RB 7 7 46 100.0% 6.6 1.8% 42.9% 6.2 5.9
Rob Calabrese QB/WR 5 3 61 60.0% 12.2 1.3% 40.0% 15.0 7.8
Kevin Miller TE 6'4, 250 So. *** (5.5)








Taylor Oldham WR 6'1, 199 RSFr. *** (5.6)








Blake Davis TE 6'3, 243 RSFr. *** (5.5)








5. Blake has weapons

Bortles' pass distribution was interesting -- J.J. Worton, Quincy McDuffie or perhaps a tight end or a running back on standard downs, then Rannell Hall, Jeff Godfrey, and Breshad Perriman on passing downs. Regardless of where he's looking, though, a majority of his targets return. And in Hall and Perriman, he has a couple of potentially explosive outlets to find on whichever downs he chooses. UCF enters the American with one of the best quarterbacks and groups of receivers in the conference.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 103.3 2.87 4.18 38.0% 70.4% 18.3% 111.7 3.0% 7.4%
Rank 58 78 5 75 52 52 50 32 77
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Jordan Rae C 39 career starts; 2012 1st All-CUSA
Torrian Wilson LT 6'3, 308 Jr. **** (5.8) 17 career starts; 2012 2nd All-CUSA
Theo Goins LG 29 career starts
Justin McCray RG 6'3, 310 Sr. *** (5.5) 20 career starts
Jordan McCray LG 6'3, 310 Sr. *** (5.5) 15 career starts
Phil Smith RT 7 career starts
Chris Martin RT 6'5, 303 Sr. *** (5.7)
Kelly Davison RT 6'5, 310 Sr. NR
Tarik Cook C 6'2, 294 So. *** (5.6)
Joey Grant C 6'2, 285 So. ** (5.3)
Michael Campbell LT 6'5, 273 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Kelly Parfitt LG 6'5, 312 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Colby Watson RG 6'4, 302 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 42 56 67 54
RUSHING 57 67 74 57
PASSING 41 48 53 45
Standard Downs 54 61 45
Passing Downs 74 87 63
Redzone 62 51 84
Q1 Rk 68 1st Down Rk 55
Q2 Rk 25 2nd Down Rk 69
Q3 Rk 84 3rd Down Rk 59
Q4 Rk 64

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 93.1 2.98 3.32 37.3% 62.7% 18.6% 96.5 5.4% 5.2%
Rank 89 71 69 46 32 78 66 39 86
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Troy Davis DE 14 52.5 6.4% 11.5 8 0 4 3 3
Cam Henderson DE 13 35.5 4.3% 5 2 0 0 0 1
Victor Gray DE 14 28.0 3.4% 9.5 2.5 0 1 0 0
E.J. Dunston DT 6'2, 302 Sr. ** (5.4) 14 27.5 3.3% 5 1 0 1 3 1
Thomas Niles DE 6'2, 270 So. *** (5.5) 13 20.0 2.4% 7 5 0 1 0 0
Deion Green DE 6'1, 247 So. *** (5.6) 12 13.5 1.6% 6.5 4 0 0 0 0
Andrew Rice DT 6'1, 272 Jr. ** (5.4)

Miles Pace DE 6'1, 247 So. *** (5.6)
Demetris Anderson DT 6'2, 304 So. *** (5.6)
Chester Brown DT 6'4, 308 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Luke Adams DE 6'4, 267 RSFr. *** (5.5)


Stanley Sylverain DE 6'1, 232 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Blake Keller DE 6'1, 223 Fr. *** (5.6)

Seyvon Lowry DE 6'3, 206 Fr. *** (5.6)
Jason Rae DT 5'10, 298 Fr. ** (5.3)






6. Opponents knew to run

I was a bit unfair to the UCF defense up top. No, the O'Leary D isn't "experimental," but the Knights can typically get after the quarterback. And sacks are fun. Between a solid pass rush and a fine secondary, the UCF pass defense was above average last fall.

The run defense, on the other hand, was a bit lacking, and opponents knew it. Knight opponents ran five percent more frequently than the national average on standard downs and more than two percent more frequently on passing downs, in part to avoid the pass rush and in part because rushing yards were pretty easy to come by.

It will be interesting to see how this changes in 2013. Sophomore Thomas Niles, a small, quick tackle, is now an end, which could help in holding up to run blocking. But three ends who combined for 12.5 sacks are all gone. O'Leary doesn't tend to substitute very much -- only six linemen and four linebackers logged any major stats -- which means we don't know much about replacements. It does appear that sophomores Niles and Deion Green, who combined for nine sacks, could keep up the pass rushing prowess; but Niles' move means there's basically no experience at tackle after senior E.J. Dunston. UCF will certainly have size with players like Western Michigan transfer Demetris Anderson and redshirt freshman Chester Brown, but size doesn't equal production. If the pass rush is decent but regresses a smidge, and the tackles don't do any better, that's still a net loss. Again, freshmen appear to be making waves (especially Coke machine Jason Rae, younger brother of the former UCF center), but you don't want to have to count on that.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Terrance Plummer MLB 6'1, 234 Jr. *** (5.6) 14 79.0 9.6% 7 0 1 2 0 1
Jonathan Davis OLB 14 74.5 9.0% 9 2.5 0 3 2 0
Ray Shipman OLB 12 64.5 7.8% 3.5 0 0 1 0 0
Troy Gray OLB 6'1, 210 Jr. *** (5.6) 14 22.5 2.7% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Willie Mitchell OLB 6'0, 228 Jr. *** (5.6) 11 2.0 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Easton OLB 5'11, 205 Jr. *** (5.5) 8 2.0 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Domenic Spencer MLB 5'10, 231 So. *** (5.5) 3 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Maurice Russell LB 5'11, 233 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Mark Rucker OLB 5'9, 207 RSFr. ** (5.2)

Chequan Burkett LB 6'1, 205 Fr. *** (5.5)






7. Stocked up the middle

UCF has turnover to deal with, but in E.J. Dunston, middle linebacker Terrance Plummer, and strong safety Clayton Geathers, there do appear to be some play-makers in the middle of the field. Plummer was a one-man Stuff Rate last year, and while his counterparts on the outside are changing (2012 backup Troy Gray looks solid, and who the hell knows about anybody else), he will continue to do his thing. Meanwhile, Geathers is almost the size of an O'Leary outside linebacker, but he proved capable of making plays both near the line of scrimmage and far away from it.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kemal Ishmael FS 14 96.0 11.7% 5 1 3 4 3 3
Clayton Geathers SS 6'2, 207 Jr. ** (5.4) 14 89.5 10.9% 4 0 0 5 2 0
A.J. Bouye CB 14 47.5 5.8% 0.5 0 3 8 1 2
Brandon Alexander FS 6'2, 191 Jr. NR 14 45.0 5.5% 2 0 1 9 0 3
Lyle Dankenbring FS 14 38.5 4.7% 4.5 0 2 2 1 0
Jordan Ozerities CB 5'10, 191 Jr. *** (5.5) 10 15.5 1.9% 1.5 0 1 2 1 1
Sean Maag DB 6'1, 194 Sr. ** (4.9) 14 13.5 1.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nicco Whigham CB 14 7.5 0.9% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Sean Beckton CB 5'10, 184 Jr. NR 9 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jeremy Davis CB 5'11, 173 RSFr. *** (5.7)

Drico Johnson FS 6'2, 206 RSFr. *** (5.6)

Jacoby Glenn CB 6'0, 176 RSFr. *** (5.5)



Jared Henry FS 5'11, 201 RSFr. *** (5.5)


Shaquill Griffin DB 6'1, 180 Fr. *** (5.6)


Shaquem Griffin DB 6'1, 185 Fr. *** (5.5)
D.J. Killings CB 5'10, 180 Fr. *** (5.5)

8. Hello, youth

In Geathers, corner-turned-safety Brandon Alexander, and to a lesser extent, corner Jordan Ozerities, UCF has some experience in the secondary. But the experience doesn't go too far beyond those three players; on paper, UCF has recruited very well in the secondary of late, but the Knights will find out first-hand how well they've done, as there will be almost no choice but to break in some freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Jeremy Davis, very nearly a four-star recruit, finished the spring as a first-string cornerback, and he is continuing to take a challenge from Jacoby Glenn, true freshman Shaquill Griffin, and others.

Again, the downside to playing with an intentionally small bench is that you end up with a lot of unknown quantities in the offseason. If Davis, Glenn, and other youngsters are stable and reasonably consistent, UCF's defense should once again find itself in the defensive top 50. But if not, the Knights could bleed over onto the wrong side of the top 50 again.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Jamie Boyle 60 40.6 7 16 23 65.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Sean Galvin 6'3, 221 Jr. 88 61.9 31 35.2%
Shawn Moffitt 5'11, 178 Jr. 1 55 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Shawn Moffitt 5'11, 178 Jr. 59-64 8-9 88.9% 2-5 40.0%
Sean Galvin 6'3, 221 Jr. 1-1 0-0 N/A 0-0 N/A
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Rannell Hall KR 6'1, 196 Jr. 18 19.4 0
Quincy McDuffie KR 17 34.2 3
Jonathan Davis KR 1 11.0 0
J.J. Worton PR 6'2, 211 Jr. 25 10.6 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 16
Net Punting 100
Net Kickoffs 48
Touchback Pct 68
Field Goal Pct 65
Kick Returns Avg 13
Punt Returns Avg 31

9. McDuffie will be missed

Quincy McDuffie the receiver was replaceable. UCF has a lot of potentially prolific targets. But the Knights might NOT have a player capable of the type of kick returns McDuffie managed in 2012. McDuffie was No. 1 in the country, averaging more than 34 yards per kick return and returning kicks for scores versus East Carolina (once) and Marshall (twice). Opponents steered clear of him frequently, but when they didn't, he often made them pay. He was a major reason why UCF was a top-15 team in terms of Field Position Advantage and top-20 in terms of overall special teams despite sketchy punting.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
29-Aug Akron 120
6-Sep at Florida International 101
14-Sep at Penn State 24
28-Sep South Carolina 14
5-Oct at Memphis 116
18-Oct at Louisville 31
26-Oct Connecticut 53
9-Nov Houston 58
16-Nov at Temple 64
21-Nov Rutgers 48
29-Nov South Florida 67
7-Dec at SMU 91
Five-Year F/+ Rk 54
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 80
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +12 / +11.8
TO Luck/Game +0.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 12 (8, 4)
Yds/Pt Margin** -5.4

10. Good and bad early, mediocre late

One has to respect ambitious non-conference scheduling. The jump from Conference USA to the AAC will result in a little less dead weight on the schedule, but UCF might take that as a trade-off for losing Tulsa. But Penn State (in Happy Valley) and South Carolina (at home) await the Knights before their first official AAC game.

Actually, including the trip to Louisville, it would take a pretty substantial upset, one way or the other, for UCF to start anything other than 3-3 this season. There are three pretty bad opponents early on (Akron, FIU, and Memphis, though I do think Memphis will be quite a bit saltier this year) and three good to very good ones. The real work, then, starts in late October. If UCF is merely a top-50 or top-60 team, there could be as many as six tossups in the final six games. And with question marks on defense and, potentially, at running back and offensive line, one could certainly see the Knights taking a bit of a step backwards this year. But if the defense holds steady, Storm Johnson stays healthy, and UCF once again pops into the top 30 or 40, suddenly it isn't impossible to see the Knights finishing the season with a long winning streak. (Avoiding Cincinnati helps in that regard.)

Regardless, UCF enters a better conference with as many bona fides, and as bright a future, as just about anybody in the conference. That's a good place to be, even if there is another every-other-year drop-off in Orlando this fall.

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