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UCF’s Big 12 Questions: Will Men’s Soccer Shine in the Sun Belt?

We answer the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in 2023-24 and beyond

Scott Calabrese Men’s Soccer American Championship
UCF has celebrated three AAC regular season titles under Scott Calabrese
Photo: Derek Warden

The 2023-24 UCF Knights Athletics season is underway, and in honor of UCF’s accession into the Big 12 Conference, we will present our version of 12 for 12. For the next 12 days, we will tackle what we think are the 12 biggest questions facing UCF Athletics in the coming year across all sports.

Our next question is actually not about the Big 12 at all:

5. Will Men’s Soccer shine in the all-new Sun Belt?

Jeff: I’ve said many times that this is the Most Interesting Team on Campus right now because of the Sun Belt.

With three other P5 teams and several other national competitors, including a recent national champion (Marshall), this is a power conference of its own given that the Big 12 and SEC don’t sponsor Men’s Soccer. It’s also going to be a gauntlet.

That gauntlet will benefit UCF however. We have seen how the Knights have been hamstrung by just being in the AAC. Now they gain a slight advantage from the RPI boost by virtue of being in the SBC.

It won’t be easy, but UCF could have more postseason success even without having the level of conference success they’ve had since Scott Calabrese came to Orlando.

Bryson: Despite the clear talent on the pitch, the Knights fell victim to a supersized American last season that sent five schools to the NCAA Tournament. Now, in the Sun Belt, while the conference is not as deep, only sending two schools to the dance, those two schools (Kentucky and Marshall) are as good if not better than those top AAC teams. They are also joined by fellow P5 teams West Virginia and South Carolina.

While their season-opening win against a Top-10 Clemson team is a promising start, lest we forget last season that the Knights beat NCAA-bound FIU and a ranked Charlotte team, but lost to sub-.500 teams like FAU and UAB. So, while the Sun Belt provides a better chance for the Knights to take the spotlight than they would have in The American, the competitiveness remains as high as ever.

Eric: I believe UCF will shine in the Sun Belt. UCF shined in the AAC, which has been a top-four league since 2019. With Pac-12 imploding, the Sun Belt and AAC will vie for which conference is behind the ACC. UCF should be able to compete with Kentucky, Marshall, and the rest of the Sun Belt.

Andrew: The Sun Belt Conference is not a group of pushovers. You have Power Five schools in West Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky along with Marshall, who won the national championship a couple of years back. In the preseason rankings, Kentucky is third and Marshall 11th with WVU and South Carolina receiving votes. That’s nothing to scoff at. Men’s soccer has had a lot of talented players come through the last few years and have gone as far as the third round in the NCAA Tournament, but the last couple of seasons have not worked out. There is no reason to believe that the program cannot bounce back quickly in the new conference.