One of the big burning questions coming into the 2020 UCF Knights season is the development of quarterback Dillon Gabriel. After taking over in the team’s first game due to incumbent Darriel Mack Jr. being injured and transfer Brandon Wimbush wildly inaccurate against an inferior Florida A&M squad, Gabriel took the reins and carved up the Rattlers and earned his first start the following week at Florida Atlantic, which had heavy UCF fan support.
It wasn’t until their first true road game at Pitt where the youth and inexperience of Gabriel was exposed. Pitt crashed the offensive line and forced Gabriel to make quicker decisions, which he struggled to do. The plan was to make Gabriel win over the top with little time. After a very slow start, the team started to find a rhythm and they came back to take the lead, but lost it in the last minute of the game. A similar song was played on a road game in Cincinnati where Gabriel was pressured into throwing three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown to give up the lead in the third quarter that they’d never get back. Much like the Pitt game, the Bearcats crashed the line and frustrated Gabriel. It happened a third time when the Knights blew a third quarter lead against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Tulsa used the same tactic on the line, which forced Gabriel to have to make quicker decisions and it got him in trouble.
One point to take note here is that all of UCF’s losses were on the road. At home(and FAU), we saw a much more comfortable Gabriel, but his comfort is contingent on the quality of the offensive line. The offensive line is going to have to retool and learn fast as the Knights lost multiple players on their two-deep roster to graduation. When you take the running backs and receivers into consideration, this sis a senior laden offense. With the NCAA allowing seniors to have an extra year of eligibility regardless of when they are playing, a strong 2020 could parlay into an even stronger 2021 depending on who chooses to take advantage of the ruling.
Gabriel ultimately had this stat line last year:
Dillon Gabriel FR Stats
Dillon Gabriel is primed for a strong sophomore campaign. If we go by UCF history, there were multiple quarterbacks who started as freshmen and upped their games as sophomores. Let’s look at how other quarterbacks in UCF history that started in their freshman year progressed from their freshman to their sophomore season.
The man who helped usher UCF to the world of Division I-A football was a four year starter for the Knights. While the records are misleading due to the classification jump, Daunte’s stats had a noticeable improvement despite playing tougher competition as they went from two I-A opponents to eight. Daunte improved every year he was at UCF, culminating in a dominating senior season. Culpepper ended up as a first round pick in the 1999 NFL Draft
Daunte Culpepper FR/SO Stats
As a freshman, Schneider stepped in for the injured Vic Penn in the second game of the season and never looked back, becoming the starting quarterback of the Knights until he got into trouble with the team in 2003 after seven games. The Knights greatly improved their quality of their schedule from 2000 to 2001 as they played three I-AA schools in 2000 and only one in 2001 while also going from one to two ranked teams. 2001 would be UCF’s last year as a I-A Independent as they would join the Mid-American Conference the following season and Schneider would have his best season as a Knight.
Ryan Schneider FR/SO Stats
Steven Moffett will always be remembered as the quarterback who led UCF their first bowl game. Burning his redshirt for the final games of a tanking 2003 campaign, Moffett struggled. Going into 2004 was no better as he was massively inconsistent. While Moffett did have four games of 200 yards or greater and showed signs of potential, the offense couldn’t convert them to points and the defense was the worst in UCF’s I-A/FBS history. It was in Moffet’s junior year where he put it all together and led UCF to their first bowl game.
Steven Moffett FR/SO Stats
In the on-campus stadium era, there was no quarterback more anticipated than Jeff Godfrey. More of an athlete than a quarterback, Godfrey had mop up duty in UCF’s season opener against South Dakota before coming in and nearly defeating NC State the next week. Godfrey never had to do too much since he had such a strong stable of running backs and was an adept runner himself. As a freshman, Godfrey helped get UCF their first ranking in the top 25 and their first bowl victory. Jeff Godfrey ended up being the exception to the rule as he took a noticeable step back as a sophomore. The dropoff in production and a lot of unlucky bounces by the team was to the extent that the coaches started giving the ball to another freshman quarterback, Blake Bortles, and Godfrey changed positions to wide receiver the next season.
Jeff Godfrey FR/SO Stats
While Blake never actually started a game as a freshman, he did end up with a sizable amount of playing time due to Jeff Godfrey’s struggles in 2011. In multiple games later in the season, he would routinely be inserted into the game and in multiple cases, finished the game. By 2012, this was Blake’s team and he went unchallenged as the starting quarterback. In their final season as members of Conference USA. Bortles’ junior campaign of 2013 propelled to be the first round draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Blake Bortles FR/SO Stats
With UCF coming off a winless 2015 season and a new coaching staff in place, there was room to experiment. The original plan was to redshirt Milton, but after Justin Holman got hurt and Nick Patti was completely ineffective in UCF’s second game against Michigan, the coaching staff sent Milton out to start the next game. Holman came back to start one more game, but the team was committed to Milton. Milton’s improvement from a pedestrian freshman year was nothing short of astronomical. Despite throwing only 59 more passes as a sophomore, Milton more than double his yardage and tripled his scoring. The evolution of McKenzie Milton helped lead UCF to an undefeated season and a share of the national championship. Milton’s sophomore season was so good, his junior season was technically a step back and the team still won every game.
McKenzie Milton FR/SO Stats