I was pretty optimistic about Mizzou's ability to destroy the small spread last week against Toledo, but UCF scares me a bit. Harry Nolan from Underdog Dynasty didn't do anything to curb my fears. UCF is a team that I'm really, really glad Mizzou scheduled, mainly because I think it's going to be a great test in the non-conference slate and has the potential to be a really good win to slap on the resume. Here's what Harry had to say about it all.
1. First and foremost, Mizzou fans are going to want to know what this UCF team is going to look like with Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson. What should we be expecting from the Knights' offense this time around?
HN: This is the most talented team UCF has ever had. Now that Pete DiNovo is no longer the starter, I look for the offense to pick up where the Knights left off last year. Justin Holman is only a sophomore with a strong arm. To put this in perspective he played less than a half against Penn State and put up 200 yards passing and 3 total TDs. He does make mistakes, but his athletic ability makes up for it. Running back William Stanback is also a sophomore. Most believe he will be better than Storm. The receivers are arguably the most underrated in the country. JJ Worton, Breshad Perriman, Rannell Hall, and Josh Reese are supremely talented. The only concern is the offense line only returning two starters. It is a concern especially against a team like Missouri.
2. After a damn good finish to the season last year, where do you expect UCF to finish in the AAC this year? How many games do they win?
HN: I see them winning 9 games this year and winning the American again. Houston has looked bad and ECU is quite overrated. Plus Cincinnati is not on the schedule again. I don't see any team in conference that can challenge them. Houston got destroyed by an experienced UTSA team in week 1 and ECU defense is it's weak spot. On paper, UCF should repeat as conference champions.
3. Having only been a D1 program since 1985, how has the Knights' rise to relevance come about?
HN: Actually I don't mean to correct you, but UCF officially became a division 1A team in 1995. So it's even more impressive the success they have had. I believe the rise of relevance was due to two factors. The first of which was Nike pumping money in to the school and athletic department. Adidas used to be the official sponsor of the athletic program, but once Marcus Jordan committed to play basketball at the school, Nike replaced its rival as the sponsor. Once Nike started pumping money into the athletic facilities, I think that made UCF attractive to recruits that they couldn't get before.
Second, and I believe to be the biggest factor, is the decline of the University of Miami. Once Miami became mediocre, they lost their foothold on Miami recruiting. That allowed UCF to swoop in and get players that Miami overlooked. Miami has had to deal with sanctions, coaching turmoil, and concern of "being back to the U", UCF has capitalized on that.
4. Who should Mizzou fans be worried about on the defensive side of the ball for UCF?
HN: Terrance Plummer. He's the heart and soul of the defense. In fact the linebacker was injured during the last drive against Penn State. That clearly had an impact. He had 110 tackles last year and is a ballhawk. He's a bit of a headhunter in a good way. He's tough and will always be around the ball. Another player is safety Clayton Geathers.
5. Daniel Tosh graduated from UCF. Good thing or bad thing?
HN: I like Tosh. He will often come by the school and talk to the students. He cares about UCF. I say it's a good thing. Oh side note for Friday Night Lights fans: the actor that played Jason Street went to UCF.
6. Which positional matchup are you most excited to see?
HN: Without question UCF's receivers vs Missouri's secondary. As I mentioned earlier UCF's receivers are immensely talented. They are also very fast especially Rannell Hall. Hall was injured against Penn State, but is expected back against Missouri. If you want to see how talented Hall is go back and watch the Fiesta Bowl. Expect quick screens to Hall to counter the Missouri pass rush.
7. Prediction time. How does this one end up?
HN: Head says Missouri, but screw it UCF wins a wild shootout 34-28.
Be sure to check out more from Harry Nolan and Underdog Dynasty for coverage on the AAC, C-USA, Sun Belt, and Independent teams.