It's that time of year again, when the east coast goes flat, and I've got nothing better to do than write about college football in my surfing blog. I know they're just a bunch of jocks dressed in silly outfits, playing with balls, and roughing each other up. But I love it. Growing up in Florida, you honestly didn't have a choice. High school and college football is a goddam religion down there. Once upon a time, I was even a high school football sideline reporter in Broward County - a known hotbed for college football recruiting. During that time I interviewed more than one player that would go on to a big-time college program, and one that eventually made it to the league. In the past I've posted my preseason takes on ALL of the division one Florida schools. But this year all of the teams from the sunshine state that aren't named UCF won't get very much coverage from me. And honestly, you're not missing out on much. Orlando is where the future of college football lies, so all of my takes this year are coming strictly from 2022 Knights Fall Camp...
The John Rhys Factor - I'm not sure you heard but there's been a quarterback competition brewing down in Orlando. Shortly after the fall camp ended, head ball coach Gus Malzahn named his QB1... the recent portal transfer and dual-threat QB, John Rhys Plumlee. And while I did like incumbent starter Mikey Keene, a lot, the ceiling for JRP is just way higher. In fact, he might very well crash through the ceiling before the season's over. If UCF gets the same player that ran through the SEC in 2019, with two more year's maturity under his belt, a better understanding of how defenses are defending him, and measurable improvement in his passing accuracy, then John Rhys Plumlee could be the MVP of the American Athletic Conference. I know that's a lot of '"ifs" but I just think UCF needs to take the chance to go and be great. Gus understands that. Mikey was a safer pick to be the starter, no doubt, but JRP has the potential to be unstoppable. Similar to the Gators when they had the combination of Tebow/Harvin/Hernandez... defenses all knew everything went through Tebow, yet they couldn't stop him from executing. Tebow was an "average passer" who threw for more than 200 yards a game, 15 times, against SEC defenses. His total yards per game exceeded 250 yards in the majority of the games he started. If JRP averages 250+ total yards per game, running and throwing, then UCF goes undefeated in the AAC in 2022. It takes only simple logic to come to that conclusion.
Triple Option w/ Two Running Backs - While the new running QB will certainly get the majority of snaps, don't be surprised if you see two running backs in the backfield, with one taking a direct snap. There's honestly limitless combinations of plays you can run out of Gus's base offense. They're the same plays and formations over and over, regardless of the skill player touching the ball, or the jet motions. RB's like RJ Harvey actually have previous QB experience, at a high level, so this offense sets up beautifully for some trickeration. If it were me, I'd occasionally send QB John Rhys Plumlee out wide, in the middle of a series, and have him run the jet (like he did occasionally as a WR at 'Ole Miss). If you did this type of thing, at a fast tempo, without subbing, the defense would be in fits trying to watch and comprehend what's going on... all while the UCF offense stuffs the rock down their throats using a simple scheme. Just imagine the run options with the speed and physicality of the UCF playmakers. So I guess what I'm saying is, it's going to be a run-first offense, which will then create massive openings in the passing game... I think JRP connects on more than a few of these, and I also expect more than one trick passing play using a running back or wide receiver to throw the ball.
TFL's and Turnovers - The Knights defense hasn't been considered a very good unit overall when compared to other top college football programs in recent years. The Frost and Heupel offenses put them on the field too much, and the Chinander and Shannon defenses struggled to keep guys fresh and healthy. Even with the upgrade at defensive coordinator in Travis Williams last season, UCF couldn't tackle elite skill players with any consistency, and the young defenders seemed extremely vulnerable facing mobile QBs with creative abilities. The Knights D got smoked, on more than one occasion last season, with blowouts at the hands of SMU and Cincinnati. But not everything was bad. The secondary played well for their age, and the D-line found themselves in position to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Tracking tackles for a loss and turnovers the past couple seasons, UCF is actually pretty respectable. They're on the plus side of interceptions and fumbles, while comparing statistically for TFL's with much more respectable defenses with power-5 brand names. To me, this means the UCF defense plays with heart and hustle. This won't change in year two under Coach T-Will. He'll have the guys trained-up, both old and new. These dawgs going to FEED this season. I can sense their intensity in every press conference... Justin Hodges and Brandon Adams got me ready to run through a goddam wall. I hope Coach T-Will stays a few more years.
Freshmen Phenoms - It seems like every fall camp press conference guys are naming freshman as the standout players. Nikai Martinez, the Henderson Twins, and Jordan McDonald just to name a few. Defensive Coordinator Travis Williams says he thinks they hit on all of the 2021 commits... that there isn't a single freshman that isn't living up to (or exceeding) the hype coming out of high school. The name that really keeps coming up is Nikai Martinez from Apopka. The word from around the locker room and from coaches is that this kid plays like an upperclassman, can be plugged into any defensive back role, and is not afraid to lay down some brick. I think he's coming off the bench to start the season, but once he goes in, he may never come out.
11+ Wins This Season - After a 9-4 campaign in 2021, and injuries to key players that almost blew up the entire season, somehow the Knights mustered up enough moxie to take down the team from Gainesville in the Gasparilla Bowl to close things out. So I've got to believe Coach Gus improves on this mark. He's got a healthy team, a full year under his belt, and a wide-open AAC in front of him. The Knights struggled on the road last year, but all of the hard games are at home this season, where they don't lose very often. The most difficult road tests for UCF will be Memphis and USF in November. But our roster is unmatched by both of these teams. If UCF can win the NINE games they play in the state of Florida this season (7 home games + USF and FAU away games) there's definitely a path to eleven wins. Away games at East Carolina, Memphis, and Tulane will be challenging, but I'm confident UCF will win at least two of those games setting themselves up for a post season championship/bowl run.
Power-5 Sweep - UCF will sweep the Power-5 schools on their schedule this year. Louisville, while talented at the QB position, will not withstand the the home field advantage that a rowdy Bounce House will deliver. It's also a revenge game. I personally think this game is at hand before half time. As far as Georgia Tech goes, it's hard to be afraid of this game. While QB Jeff Simms does make me slightly nervous, the outside noise from having a coach on the hot seat and boosters behaving like children have created uncertainly all over the program. So the chances they'll be able to go into a hostile environment and come out with a win, are pretty low. On top of that, the Yellowjacket defense lost its best tacklers to the portal this offseason, which should make defending a Bowser/Richardson/JRP running attack an extremely difficult task.
AAC Championship or Bust - I believe a realistic goal for the 2022 season is an AAC Championship. The Knights have a talented roster, great skill position players, and elite level coaching. This program is built to be a contender in the AAC, and it should dominate the league thanks to better recruiting and depth throughout the roster. While UCF might face some tougher opponents starting in 2023, as a member of the BIG XII conference, right now they're in the AAC where most of the teams they face will not outsize or outrace them. There's not enough depth, outside of Houston and Cincinnati, to compete with this team, and any losses outside of these teams will be a result of UCF beating themselves.
OK, these are my predictions... and without shit-talking the other Florida programs. But even if I did, most of their fanbase is too old to read a blog. I mean, I know UF and FSU are your Grandma and Grandpa's alma matters, but do they actually know how to use the internet outside of their AOL accounts?? Millions of dollars and fancy facilities doesn't automatically make a great football team. A NEW power program has emerged down south, so move over gators, noles, and canes... The Knights are now the BEST team in Florida, and they're just getting started.