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2022 UCF Football Position Preview: Quarterbacks

Who will get the call under center on September 1?

Mikey Keene and John Rhys Plumlee will be battling for the starting QB spot this pre-season.
Mikey Keene and John Rhys Plumlee will be battling for the starting QB spot this preseason.
Photos: Derek Warden

Of all the position battles taking place during the UCF Knights’ summer football camp, the most closely-watched one will be at the most important position on the field: Quarterback.

We all know the match-up by now: The returning hero, Mikey Keene, against the flashy newcomer, John Rhys Plumlee. Twitter analysts are having a field day.

Let’s break this down as dispassionately as possible.

The Case for John Rhys Plumlee

He’s experienced

Plumlee will be entering his fourth year of college football in 2022. He’s played in 25 total games in his career, with nine of those coming as a starting quarterback. All 25 games have come in the SEC at Ole Miss, as a QB in 2019 and then as a wideout when Lane Kiffin took over and handed the job to Matt Corral.

He’s a legit running threat

Plumlee’s running ability is well-documented — Just ask LSU. He is legitimately fast.

The one question mark has been his throwing arm, but it’s not strictly because of any shortcomings, but a lack of data. In his three seasons in Oxford, he recorded 188 rushes but only 158 pass attempts. In 2019, he averaged only 16 passes in his nine games for a team that went 4-8 for a coach that got fired after the season concluded.

He has a prior relationship with Gus Malzahn

When Plumlee was in high school, Gus Malzahn went hard after him in recruiting. Plumlee initially committed to Georgia prior to his senior year, but de-committed from the Bulldogs in favor of Ole Miss, where he would play baseball as well as football.

But as we all know, relationships matter in football, and when Plumlee put himself into the Transfer Portal, Malzahn saw the opportunity to run it back with him, and here he is.

The Case for Mikey Keene

He’s the incumbent

The biggest thing going for Mikey Keene is he’s already here. He has the most experience at UCF of any of the four QBs on the roster, having come in as a true freshman when Dillon Gabriel went down with a broken clavicle.

The result: 64%, 1,730 yards, 17 TDs, 6 INTs, plus seven wins in ten games, with one of those being the biggest non-BCS/NY6 bowl win in school history. He’s a known quantity in this offense, and that never hurts.

He already has chemistry with the team

It was obvious when Keene took the reins, that, as a true freshman thrust into a starting role, his envelope was limited. Gus Malzahn sculpted the offense around his strengths, made his reads easy, and that paid dividends.

Part of that adjustment included developing chemistry with UCF’s most explosive offensive threat, Ryan O’Keefe. 66 of O’Keefe’s 84 catches, and 570 of his 812 receiving yards came after the Navy game, as did six of his seven touchdowns. Keene also developed a Red Zone bond with Brandon Johnson, throwing 8 of Johnson’s 11 TD catches on the year.

It’s hard for a true freshman QB to come in under difficult circumstances and earn the respect of his teammates, but that’s exactly what Keene did through his play, guiding UCF to a successful campaign against all odds when he took over the job.

He has shown dramatic improvement

Keene’s first four starts were rough. UCF went 2-2 and his inconsistent play was a reason for the Knights’ unevenness in that stretch. But after the Temple game, something clicked. Look at the comparison:

Mikey Keene’s 2021 Stats

Stretch Record Comp/Att Yards Comp% Y/Att Y/Comp YPG TD INT
Stretch Record Comp/Att Yards Comp% Y/Att Y/Comp YPG TD INT
First 4 starts 2-2 66/107 576 61.7% 5.38 8.73 144.0 3 5
Last 6 starts 5-1 103/158 1099 65.1% 6.95 10.67 183.1 12 1

Once Keene got his feet underneath him, he became an efficient passer who knew how to get the ball to his playmakers. Granted, his stats still weren’t mindblowing, but you could tell the game slowed down for him. He took better care of the ball and put the skill guys around him in position to succeed.

Case in point: The Gasparilla. Keene did not commit a single turnover, and although he only three for 144 yards, he picked his spots, picking up 8 first downs through the air and allowing the offense to grind Florida down with 288 rushing yards on 50 carries.

Assuming he has worked on improving his weaknesses over the spring and summer, Keene stands to be very tough to unseat from his position.

It’s also possible that whoever the starter is for South Carolina State is not the starter by the end of the year, or that we may see both guys see plenty of playing time. We don’t know right now. But what we easily forget is that neither Keene nor Plumlee are the QB of the Future:

The Other Guys

Thomas Castellanos is the guy who Gus Malzahn looks forward to the most in his long-term plans. Malzahn spent a lot of recruiting capital to pull Castellanos down to Orlando from Georgia, and given his true dual-threat ability, he has every reason to be excited:

Given the current situation, this is going to be a learning season for Castellanos. However, don’t be surprised to see him take the field in garbage time opportunities for up to four games, so he doesn’t burn his redshirt.

Elsewhere on the depth chart is Will Bohn, a JC transfer originally from Kissimmee, who will run much of the scout team duties, and probably won’t see much action outside of a complete catastrophe.

UCF’s Quarterbacks

No. Name Height Weight Year 2021 School Career Stats
No. Name Height Weight Year 2021 School Career Stats
10 John Rhys Plumlee 6-0 200 Sr. Ole Miss 85/158 (53.8%), 981 pass yds, 5 TD/3 INT, 188 rush, 1,189 yds, 12 TDs
11 Will Bohn 6-1 194 R-So. Coffeyville CC (Kansas) 15/32 (46.9%), 267 pass yds, 2 TD/1 INT, 19 rush, 85 yds
12 Thomas Castellanos 6-0 190 Fr. Ware County HS (GA) 519/888 (58.4%), 7710 pass yds, 66 TD/26 INT, 668 rush, 3681 yds, 69 TDs
13 Mikey Keene 5-11 180 So. UCF 173/272 (64%), 1730 pass yds, 17 TD/6 INT
Note: Castellanos’ stats are from high school