Football Bowl Subdivision

                 ***** NCAA Football Preview - UCF Knights *****
 By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The defensive-minded Knights had a chance to win just
 about every game they played in 2011, but UCF still missed the bowl season
 with a 5-7 finish.
 At the start of his eighth season as head coach, George O'Leary's team was
 projected to be headed to the Conference USA Championship for the second
 season and there were even some whispers of a BCS appearance. The Knights got
 off to a promising starts with convincing victories over Charleston Southern
 (62-0) and Boston College (30-3), but they lost their next two non-conference
 matches to FIU (17-10) and BYU (24-17). UCF opened up its C-USA season by
 topping Marshall (16-6), but lost its next two to SMU (38-17) and UAB (26-24).
 The Knights returned to Orlando to down Memphis (41-0), but a three-game
 losing slide followed as Tulsa (24-17), Southern Miss (30-29), and East
 Carolina (38-31) all outlasted UCF in close games. The Knights closed out
 their 2011 season and sent their seniors off the right way by defeating Texas-
 El Paso (31-14) in their finale.
 With just five wins, UCF did not qualify for the C-USA Championship or the
 bowl season. The program was in a state of worry during the offseason as it
 waited for the NCAA's decision stemming from recruiting violations. The
 Knights received a one-year bowl ban, but the school decided to appeal the
 NCAA's ruling. The length of the appeal process will determine whether UCF has
 to serve its bowl ban in 2012 or 2013. If the appeal is rejected before the
 end of the season, the Knights will be ineligible in their last season in the
 C-USA. Although the chances are slim, UCF still could win its appeal and not
 have to miss any postseason action.
 OFFENSE: Although UCF's defense was sensational in 2011, its offense was not
 the reason it failed to stay above .500. The Knights ranked 40th in the NCAA in
 total offense (406.8) despite a continuous quarterback competition. Last
 season's question mark under center is officially over as sophomore Blake
 Bortles (6-4, 221) has been handed the reins of the offense. The position
 became solely Bortles's to lose when 2011 starter, Jeff Godfrey, made a move to
 wide receiver. Tyler Gabbert, the younger brother of the current NFL
 quarterback Blaine Gabbert, is expected to back up Bortles after transferring
 from Missouri.
 "I would describe this offense as explosive," said Godfrey. "We have a lot of
 weapons. Blake (Bortles) is doing a tremendous job at quarterback. We have
 tremendous receivers, running backs and offensive line. So when you think of
 the UCF offense you think explosive."
 Bortles looked sharp in the spring game, completing 27-of-45 passes for 239
 yards and a touchdown, despite having his wideouts drop 12 of his throws during
 the game. Senior Quincy McDuffie is the top target in the passing game, but
 J.J. Worton and Josh Reese will be viable options as well.
 UCF fans are expecting big things out of Miami-Florida transfer Storm Johnson
 (6-1, 216) this season. The tailback has big play ability that returning
 seniors Latavius Murray and Brynn Harvey do not. Murray is still expected to
 get his fair share of touches to keep the defense off-balanced. The offensive
 line returns three key veterans, including two-year starter Jordan Rae (6-2,
 275) at center.
 DEFENSE: The Knights led C-USA in rushing defense (108.8), total defense
 (303.3), and scoring defense (18.3) last season and could do it again in 2012
 with the return of several key players. Victor Gray (6-4, 267) should hear
 his name called more with his move from tackle to end. Gray and Troy Davis
 combine to make a very effective pass rushing tandem. The heavy pass rush
 should lead to some success for the secondary, which returns three starters in
 CB A.J. Bouye, SS Clayton Geathers, and FS Kemal Ishmael. The Jim Thorpe Award
 which goes to the top defensive back in football has Ishmael on its preseason
 watch list.
 Ray Shipman is expected to make a big impact at linebacker this season as he
 becomes eligible after transferring from Florida. Shipman was a member of the
 men's basketball team with the Gators, but he was considered a four-star
 football prospect after his freshman year of high school. He will join
 Jonathan Davis and Terrance Plummer to make up a versatile linebacking unit.
 SPECIAL TEAMS: O'Leary had to find replacements for his starting kicker and
 punter. Sophomore Shawn Moffitt made 5-of-9 field goal attempts as a backup
 last year, but he will be challenged by Sean Galvin for the position even as
 the season progresses. Senior Jamie Boyle will be the team's starting punter
 despite never attempting a punt in a collegiate game. UCF's return game will be
 one of the most dynamic in the nation with McDuffie and Rannell Hall fielding
 kicks. Hall averaged 31.0 yards per kick return last season to become the only
 true freshman to earn first-team All-C-USA honors.
 OUTLOOK: The Knights' season not only faces the variables caused by a
 challenging schedule, they will also have to deal with the off-field
 distractions caused by the appeal process of their NCAA violations. O'Leary's
 team has a more difficult road in 2012, but the program is receiving votes in
 the preseason top 25 polls due to its impressive returning lineup.
 "I think we have a solid football team back, and there was a lot of retention
 from the spring," O'Leary said. "We had a great offseason as far as the weight
 room is concerned. All of those young players who played last year, you can
 see they've got a little more girth to them, and a little more knowledge as
 far as where they belong and what they are supposed to do."
 UCF has a two-game road trip in Ohio to start the season as it plays Akron on
 August 20 and Ohio State on September 8. The Knights return home for four
 straight and will have a chance to get revenge on FIU before Gabbert faces his
 former team, Missouri on September 29. UCF's league schedule starts off with
 two home games versus East Carolina and Southern Miss, but it has four of its
 next five on the road. The Knights close out their regular season and possibly
 Conference USA membership with a home game versus UAB on November 24.
 The program's NCAA violations will set it back as it transitions into the Big
 East for 2013. The timing of the unfavorable decision could not come at a
 worse time as the Knights are once again projected to be legitimate conference
 title contenders.
 08/20 10:42:34 ET

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