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Who is UCF’s Starting QB? It Doesn’t Really Matter

It’s the answer that we all want, even though the answer isn’t actually that consequential

UCF quarterback Brandon Wimbush
Photo: Derek Warden

Josh Heupel knew what was coming.

The accumulated media with all their angles and questions would foam up at the mouth, and all the scribes and journos would look up and shout, “Quarterback?!”

And he would look down and whisper, “No.”

Heupel has a choice. I assume he has already made it since training camp is officially over and, as of Tuesday, the UCF Knights have moved on to game prep for their Aug. 29 opener versus Florida A&M.

I honestly thought Heupel would verbally anoint someone Tuesday. Maybe that was naive, but if Ohio State, Oklahoma, Auburn, USC and West Virginia can all name their starting QB this week, why not UCF? Alas, we wait.

Barring an announcement through the team’s social media channels within the following few days, Heupel will next meet the media Saturday afternoon. If not then, he’ll have one final chance Tuesday to make it official before game day. And I’m definitely not ruling out a scenario where we aren’t sure who will take that initial snap until after the opening kickoff Thursday night. It would be similar to how UCF handled last year’s game at ECU, in which Darriel Mack Jr. started in place of an injured McKenzie Milton. The ESPN crew broadcasting that game wasn’t informed of this change until the waning seconds prior to kickoff.

But no matter who is named the starting quarterback, let’s not lose sight of what that title means here.

Either Brandon Wimbush, Dillon Gabriel or Quadry Jones will start. After that, there are no guarantees.

If you love yourself some betting action, you should know that UCF is a 45.5-point favorite against FAMU, an FCS squad that had to wait to get its fall camp underway because the team couldn’t get enough players medically cleared to practice.

In other words, the Knights should roll next Thursday night, allowing a lot of players — and any available quarterback — to see some snaps. Hell, maybe they’ll put player/coach Hayden Kingston out there.

So, although camp is over, the competition to be the starting quarterback won’t be. The Knights could be in a position to play all three not just in Week 1 but also in the succeeding game at Florida Atlantic. And as I said on the Black and Gold Banneret podcast a couple of weeks ago, I think might see different men under center for the first snap in each matchup. Those will be live auditions for each player to prove themselves; to show that they can command and lead the offense to points repeatedly.

Ultimately, I would be surprised if Wimbush wasn’t “the guy” to open the FAMU game. He’s the safe pick as the grad transfer senior with big-game experience and whose on-field strengths should translate well to a lot of what UCF had already installed for Mack.

If Gabriel gets the nod, the Knights’ quarterback of the future would suddenly be their quarterback of the present. But more than anything, that would seem to be damning for Wimbush; that he couldn’t outperform a player with zero college football experience might signal that the accuracy issues which put him on the pine last year at Notre Dame have followed him south.

And if Quadry Jones is named the starter? Well, I’m just not prepared for that right now. I think he is clearly third in this battle right now.

But whenever a starter is in fact named, we won’t know for how long he has earned that role. Maybe just one game.

Last week, UCF quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby said he hadn’t been involved with a QB battle this tight since he was at Baylor in 2008. That season, senior Kirby Freeman, who had transferred in from Miami, battled true freshman Robert Griffin III. Freeman won the job but was benched in Week 1 after completing just four of 11 throws with two interceptions. He was replaced by RG3 that day and then permanently moving forward.

Senior/freshman competition parallels aside, that’s a common example of what being named the Week 1 starter can mean. If the Knights had a quarterback whom they wholly trust to guide them through the season with no questions asked — *cough* McKenzie Milton *cough* — that man would have been identified months ago.

But all of these quarterbacks have flaws and a much shorter leash. Oh, and let’s not forget that Mack is expected to return to action at some point this season. He’s going to be determined to make up for lost time, undoubtedly.

Perhaps in a few days, Heupel will finally provide the answer we have prodded for over the past month. But when he does tab a starter, the announcement’s reaction will be bigger than the actual weight it carries.

As soon as that first snap is out of the way, we might as well be back in fall camp, as three men try to make their case for why they should start in Week 2.