If any team in the nation has undergone a total metamorphosis, from stem to stern, in the span of one off-season, it’s UCF Football.
Think about this 38-day timeline in late 2015:
- October 24th – UCF loses to Houston, 59-10, at home on national TV. The Knights are 0-8.
- October 25th – George O’Leary resigns as UCF’s head football coach. Danny Barrett takes over.
- November 17th – UCF hires Danny White as Athletic Director.
- November 26th – UCF loses to USF at home on Thanksgiving, 44-3. The Knights are outscored 88-10 in their final two games.
- December 1 – UCF hires Scott Frost as its new head coach.
That period of time may be the most turbulent in the history of UCF sports. But the miracle is the five days over Thanksgiving weekend, when UCF went from a winless catastrophe to one of the most highly-anticipated stories in college football.
Gone is the concrete-and-brick facade of the O’Leary Era, replaced with the Oregon-built modern architecture of Scott Frost’s Oregon offense. The transformation has been absolute.
New uniforms. Names on the jerseys. Music in practice. Spread offense. Massive video board. Pregame concerts. UCF Football is fun again.
Maybe no season in UCF Football history has had so much anticipation attached to it than this, Scott Frost’s first season as the Knights’ head coach. But there are still plenty of questions swirling around the team and the program, but here are the five biggest questions facing the Knights heading into 2016.
1. How will Scott Frost’s offense work with George O’Leary’s players?
It’s the old square-peg-in-round-hole problem: How do you get players recruited and coached by George O’Leary, whose football philosophy was centered on having bigger guys than the other guys, and fit them into Scott Frost’s Oregon system, which is predicated on speed?
We’ve seen a great deal of progress in the weight room, thanks to the Knights’ new strength coach, Zach Duval. Duval has had to re-tool the Knights in the weightroom, getting the offense ready for the high-octane, 12-seconds-between-plays grind.
That means a lighter, faster, stronger offensive line – a departure from the giant road-grader types that O’Leary favored.
Then there are the quarterbacks. Justin Holman was the prototypical O’Leary QB – a big, strong arm, drop-back passer. Now he’s being asked to work in the system that made Marcus Mariota famous. While the next generation (McKenzie Milton) awaits his turn, Holman will have to make the hardest adjustment of his career, lest Nick Patti again take his place, or Milton have to burn a redshirt.
This will be the Knights’ most difficult adjustment. There are times the offense will look like a world-beating machine, and others where it will look like all eleven guys have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s what happens with square pegs. Patience, dear Knight fan, is advisable.
2. Who will be the prime running back (or backs)?
Remember when Will Stanback was a thing?
That was fun while it lasted. Stanback rushed for 11 yards on 12 carries in 2015 and got kicked off the team before October.
One year later, the UCF running back situation is perhaps more muddled than it was at the end of 2015. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Consider that the Oregon offense is actually a run-centric offense, and doesn’t have backs and receivers as much as it has skill players to whom the QB gets the ball in space.
While there are a couple of guys who will do this, the optimal options are still a year or two away.
The depth chart shows four players at the tailback position:
- Dontravious Wilson (5′ 10″, 210 pounds, Senior)
- Jawon Hamilton (5′ 9″, 190 pounds, Freshman)
- Taj McGowan (6′ 1″, 202 pounds, Sophomore)
- Adrien Killins (5′ 8″, 155 pounds, Freshman)
Notice the gaps between Wilson and McGowan, the vets, and Hamilton and Killins, the newcomers. Killins and Hamilton are going to be UCF’s version of DeAnthony Thomas. The question is when. The answer is probably soon, but not just yet. In the meantime, Wilson and McGowan will likely carry the load.
3. How will the defense adjust to being on the field a lot?
In 2015, Oregon was 112th in the nation in time of possession, averaging about 27 minutes per game. UCF was 111th.
Let’s go back a bit and compare that stat over time:
|Year||TOP/gm.||FBS Rank||TOP||FBS Rank|
If UCF’s offense is going to spend that much less time on the field, that means the defense is going to spend that much more. And this fact may make the defense’s job the most painful adjustment for UCF in 2016.
Again, here’s where Zach Duval’s handywork in the weightroom becomes critical, as cardiovascular conditioning has become paramount in making sure the defense can stop the opponent enough times to allow the Knights’ offense to score at least one more time than them.
If all goes well, expect a lot of scoring on both sides.
4. How will Scott Frost do in his first head coaching job?
This is perhaps the most difficult question to answer. It’s one thing to be in the booth calling plays. It’s another to be on the sideline for the first time.
But Frost has said he’s looked at head coaching jobs in the past before UCF came along, and he took this job because it was the right opportunity with fertile recruiting ground. So we know he feels that he’s been ready for a while.
To his credit, the staff he has brought to UCF has been a reflection of his management, bringing in experts from his travels around the coaching industry (offensive coordinator Troy Walters, QB coach Mario Verduzco, defensive coordinator Eric Chinander), while also keeping familiar UCF personnel around, particularly guys who played at UCF and had connections to recruiting pipelines in South Florida (Travis Fisher, Kevin Smith and Sean Beckton).
As we’ve said before, Frost’s incentive for success is the same as UCF’s. There will be as much of a gameday learning curve for him as for his players. But if there’s something we know from Frost’s past, it’s that he’s a versatile and quick learner.
5. Will the Knights ever win a game again?
This one is easy: Yes.
The question is when. Hopefully it’s in the first game against South Carolina State.
Just for perspective, here’s how UCF got its last win, in case you forgot:
Future victories in the Scott Frost Era may not be as dramatic, but if Coach Frost’s system can move coasts from Oregon to Florida, those future victories may be just as exhilarating.