UCF athletic director Danny White is known for having a good curveball. The school hired Scott Frost as its head coach two years ago when local media were distracted by other names. And when Frost got hired away by Nebraska, the primary people associated with the job were guys like UCF assistant Troy Edwards and maybe Troy head coach Neal Brown.
UCF hired Josh Heupel instead.
Frost’s up-tempo offense resonated both in the stands and on the scoreboard in UCF, so it stands to reason that White would look for someone to maintain both the prolific scoring and the pace. Lord knows Heupel can do that.
As Missouri offensive coordinator, his offense ranked fourth in my adjusted pace metric. And once they began finding a couple of advantages in the middle of 2017, Heupel found an incredible play-calling rhythm. Missouri averaged 51.3 points per game over the last six games of the season, all wins.
Heupel inherited a destitute offense that had ranked just 120th in Off. S&P+ in 2015, before his arrival, and had averaged eight points per game over its last seven contests. In 2016, the Tigers battled predictable inconsistency but still improved to 42nd in Off. S&P+ and 48th in scoring offense
Over the last half of 2017, his vision came to fruition. Even with some early-season difficulties, Mizzou currently ranks 10th in Off. S&P+, 12th in scoring offense, and seventh in yards per game. That the offense would frequently succeed or fail quickly sometimes put the defense into a tricky position, but among other things, UCF has proven you can still win a lot of games taking that risk.
Frost created a brand White liked — first as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator, then in two years at Mizzou — and White found an unexpected but surprisingly sensible replacement.
As for Missouri, this isn’t a worst-case scenario, but it’s close. The hope was to keep the band of Heupel and all-SEC quarterback Drew Lock together for one more season; thanks to the return of defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., a perfect 3-for-3 in the returns department would have potentially made Mizzou a preseason top-25 team after the Tigers’ hot finish to 2017.
We’ll see if this impacts Lock’s decision to return to Missouri or jump to the pros. It might not, but it certainly can’t help those odds. It also means that head coach Barry Odom could likely be hiring new offensive and defensive coordinators this offseason. Will he promote from within? Will he look to the mid-major ranks again (as he did with Heupel, who had spent a year at Utah State after OU)?