2012 Missouri Football Preview: Central Florida

Former Mizzou quarterback Tyler Gabbert is eligible to play for UCF this fall, but don't assume he'll beat out incumbent Blake Bortles. In fact, it's probably safe to assume he won't. (Photo via Bill Carter.)

The 2012 Missouri football season -- the most anticipated in Mizzou's history, at least according to season ticket sales -- is less than three weeks away! And to preview the season, we're going to do a review of sorts. I've already written about Mizzou's non-conference opponents in my 2012 season preview series for SBN (the SEC previews begin tomorrow), and we already covered initial looks at each Mizzou position in the spring walkthrough series. We will use August, then, to rehash previous work and take a look at what has changed.

First up on the completely random series of preview pieces: a look at the Central Florida Knights.

Statistical Profile

View UCF's statistical profile here.

In A Nutshell: The defense regressed quite a bit in having to replace a lot of 2010 playmakers, but the offense became rather interesting, especially with Blake Bortles, then a redshirt freshman, at quarterback.

Most Impressive Unit: Running backs.

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2012
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Brynn Harvey TB 6'1, 207 Sr. *** (5.7) 126 574 4.6 1.5 3 -5.4
Latavius Murray TB 6'3, 225 Sr. *** (5.5) 98 549 5.6 2.3 8 +11.7
Jeff Godfrey QB 5'11, 182 Jr. *** (5.7) 94 510 5.4 1.8 9 +10.0
Ronnie Weaver TB 77 299 3.9 1.3 3 -3.5
Blake Bortles QB 6'4, 223 So. *** (5.6) 13 51 3.9 0.7 1 -0.3
Quincy McDuffie WR 5'10, 175 Sr. ** (4.9) 12 132 11.0 6.5 1 +4.5
Storm Johnson (2010^) RB 6'1, 216 So. **** (5.9) 9 119 13.2 9.4 1 +4.1

Miami transfer Storm Johnson gives this unit a serious boost, and I really like Latavius Murray as well. The receiving corps is also well stocked -- Quincy McDuffie, J.J. Worton and Josh Reese combined for 114 catches and 1,474 yards (9.4 per target) last year. Whoever wins the quarterback job, Bortles or Tyler Gabbert, will have quite a few run weapons at his disposal.

Least Impressive Unit: Offensive line.

2011 Two-Deep Pos. Ht, Wt 2012
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Nick Pieschel RT 43 career starts, 2011 2nd All-CUSA
Cliff McCray RG 33 career starts
Jordan Rae C 6'2, 272 Sr. NR 25 career starts
Theo Goins LG 6'4, 316 Sr. ** (5.2) 22 career starts
Chris Martin LT


13 career starts
Justin McCray RG 6'4, 307 Jr. *** (5.5) 6 career starts
Torrian Wilson LT 6'4, 309 So. **** (5.8) 3 career starts
Jordan McCray LG 6'4, 309 Jr. *** (5.5) 1 career start
Rey Cunha C 6'3, 278 Jr. ** (5.3)
Tony Jacob RT 6'8, 343 So. ** (5.4)
Chester Brown OL 6'5, 340 Fr. *** (5.6)

There were a few more issues in the defensive front seven than UCF was used to last year, but an only average line must replace its two most experienced players. There is potential here when you look at some of the Rivals star ratings, but I'm not incredibly impressed.

2012 Preview

Here's my SBN preview on the Knights.

To be sure, UCF was worse in 2011 than they were in 2010, as evidenced by their overall F/+ rankings (31st in 2010, 53rd in 2011), but considering they suffered nearly three points of bad injury luck per game (in a season that saw them lose games by one point to Southern Miss and two points to UAB, no less), considering the three teams above them in the rankings (Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Auburn) combined to go 26-14, and considering the three teams below them (Utah, SMU, Ohio) also went 26-14, it's pretty clear that UCF's seven losses were a bit of a mirage. With a stellar running game, an intriguing quarterback, and most of the defense returning, there is little reason to question whether UCF will be back among bowl-eligible teams and making themselves a factor in the Conference USA race. […]

Considering the typical velocity of UCF's bounceback seasons, one would assume that UCF fans are aiming high in their team's final year in Conference USA. Still, the schedule is brutal enough to prevent a return to the land of double-digit wins. The Knights visit Ohio State on Sept. 8 and host Missouri on Sept. 29, and they must travel to face another conference favorite, Tulsa, in November. Still, the other three road games (Memphis, Marshall, UTEP) are all winnable enough to set the bar back at eight wins or so and a run at a division title.

Last year, I was quite bearish on O'Leary's Knights. The losses on defense scared me, and I wasn't sure how high the offense's ceiling might be if Jeff Godfrey wasn't able to improve on passing downs. This year, I'm surging in the opposite direction. I really like Bortles and the offense (drops aside), and I just have to assume that, while the defense probably won't play at 2007-10 levels, it will still improve a decent amount, as will, in theory, last year's bad luck. The schedule may preclude double-digit wins, but with East Carolina, Southern Miss and SMU visiting Orlando, it is friendly toward UCF's chances at a return to the Conference USA title game.

What's Changed?

I wrote that preview in early-May. On July 31, the NCAA announced that both the UCF football and basketball programs were banned from the postseason for one year, so it is no longer eligible for the Conference USA crown.

The Verdict

I certainly like Mizzou to win this game, but this really could be a stiff test. This is UCF's de facto bowl game now, the biggest game on the Knights' home schedule, and they have quite a bit of skill position talent to throw at Mizzou. Plus, the game comes at an odd time -- a week after the trip to South Carolina and a week before the back-to-back home games versus Vandy and Alabama. The odds favor Mizzou, at least a little, but the paranoia factor should be pretty high for this one.

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