Tuesday, July 18, 2006

University of Central Florida 2006 Football Preview

I am a proud Alumni of the University of Central Florida (UCF). Last year was our best football year ever, and I’m looking forward to even more this year. I don’t usually post whole articles but I want to this time… below is the 2006 football preview for UCF from SI.com:


The culture of football in Orlando is forever changed. George O'Leary's Golden Knights vanquished the ghosts of an 0-11 season and a 17-game losing streak by winning Conference USA's East Division and securing the school's first bowl berth.

A stunning 49-48 loss to Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl - a missed extra point prevented a second overtime - left UCF hungry for more. It heads into its second season in C-USA with the personnel to get more, although the Knights' defense must make bigger strides for them to collect.

"The biggest challenge is keeping the players from thinking they've accomplished anything," O'Leary says. "All we've done so far is take one step. We have a lot of steps left to take. We haven't even scratched the surface."

O'Leary earned a new 10-year, $10 million contract for transforming UCF into a disciplined, run-first program. Last year the Knights developed a small but effective stable of runners, headed by Kevin Smith and Jason Peters, and led by a developing offensive line.

Quarterback Steven Moffett, always an accurate passer, became more proficient at reading defenses and making decisions. Receiver Mike Walker returns for his senior season having recovered from offseason knee surgery. Until Moffett develops trust in another wideout, Walker's return looms as a key question for an offense that needs playmakers.

The third year of O'Leary's tenure in Orlando sees the heat getting turned up on defensive coordinator Lance Thompson. The Knights were 11th in C-USA in total defense and must be more stubborn against the run.



In Coach George O'Leary's second season in Orlando, UCF's transition from pass-first to run-first was complete. The resulting production carried the Golden Knights to their first-ever bowl appearance in 2005.

The impact of first-year running back Kevin Smith was immediate: UCF averaged 167.1 yards rushing, the program's best performance on the ground in a decade, and Smith gained 1,178 yards to become Conference USA's Freshman of the Year.

For 2006, UCF's stable of runners is even deeper with the addition of Shane Smith, which means quarterback Steve Moffett (22 touchdowns, nine interceptions in '05) can concern himself with finding the replacement for graduated receiver Brandon Marshall. The loss of Marshall could be complicated if big-play receiver Mike Walker struggles in his comeback from knee surgery. Sophomore Rocky Ross will be asked to make more plays.

The best news about this unit, though, is that UCF's offensive line returns intact. Center Cedric Gagne-Marcoux has played every snap the past two seasons, and coaches are delighted by sophomore left tackle Pat Brown.



This season hinges on the defense. Coordinator Lance Thompson is searching for pass rushers on the edge and playmakers at linebacker. Unsettled is who replaces end Paul Carrington (nine sacks in 2005) and whether a young linebacker corps can develop more quickly and stay healthy.

Senior end Chris Welsh will be asked to do more, as will outside linebacker Jordan Richards. Freshman Chance Henderson may be thrust in at middle linebacker, a position at which the Knights are woefully thin.

If UCF struggles to get a pass rush again, a talented young secondary again will be asked to play up. Cornerback Joe Burnett led the team in interceptions (five) as a freshman and is already the defense's top talent. Burnett, Travonti Johnson and Johnell Neal need safety help to shore up a unit that was 11th in the league in total defense.



UCF lost the Hawaii Bowl to Nevada 49-48 in overtime when it missed an extra point, so kickers are going to get a close look. Two transfers, Michael Torres from I-AA Massachusetts and Nick Beucher from Tulane, will compete to replace strong-legged Matt Prater. Senior Aaron Horne returns as one of C-USA's best overall punters. Also returning are two keys to UCF's special teams' success: Curtis Francis and Burnett. Francis recovered two key fumbles on punts in '05, while Burnett returned two punts for scores.



Although still young, UCF has one of the top teams in C-USA, but unlike last year they'll have to prove it for three months. No more sneaking up on teams. Just how well the Knights fare probably depends on how quickly the defense matures and whether Moffett stays healthy. At least the Knights get a chance to get out of the gate. This season brings two home games in September (Villanova and USF) for the first time since 2000. It also brings a trip to Marshall, a place where UCF has played well but never won.

The Knights were virtually injury-free in 2005, and they ranked 12th in the country in turnover margin. Both were key to last year's success, and both will be difficult to duplicate.

UCF should have a solid chance to make a second straight bowl trip, and making it back to the C-USA title game isn't far-fetched.






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