With the “AAC Kickoff” in full swing, huge predictions for this upcoming season are being made. On Tuesday UCF was picked to win its third straight conference title. While this news in certainly not shocking, this season might pose the hardest challenge in keeping their undefeated regular season streak alive.
Recent history is certainly on UCF’s side, and the Knights return 13 starters from last year’s team that went 12-1 and finished the year ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll.
Our all-time record when picked to hoist the @American_FB 🏆?
👉 1-0 👈 https://t.co/osbYEkZiby
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) July 16, 2019
While this would be their third AAC title, this is the first time UCF has been picked to win the American in the preseason. The media picked Cincinnati second giving them 8 first place votes.
However, the Knights currently have more questions than answers at their quarterback position, and the solutions to those questions might impact if they can live up to the predictions. After learning that UCF’s presumed starter to begin the 2019 season, Darriel Mack, Jr., had suffered a non-football injured broken ankle, rendering him now out indefinitely. That has now thrown a real curve ball into coach Josh Heupel’s plan to have Mack be the guy, but potentially be challenged by Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush.
Wimbush left the Fighting Irish program as a graduate transfer and is immediately eligible to help Heupel’s offense. Wimbush was a successful starter in South Bend in 2017. He threw for over 1,800 yards and rushed for over another 600 leading Notre Dame to a 10-2 record. He also set the Irish record for rushing TDs by a quarterback with 14 for that year.
Wimbush is likely to be the next in line, but the Knights also have a McKenzie Milton-like QB clone from Hawaii, again, in freshman undersized but speedy Dillon Gabriel. The 6’0, 185lbs. Gabriel broke several of Milton and Marcus Mariota’s high school records in Hawaii, including most yards passing in a high school career.
Even admist the QB struggle, many other media outlets have high hopes for the Knights, including this tweet, which put UCF on a list of potential teams that could make their first College Football Playoff this year.
We’ll get a first look at UCF chooses as their play-caller and if it looks like they’ll be able to lead them to another dominant season when they take on Florida A&M on August 29th.
UCF WR Gabe Davis will turn pro
Next year’s UCF offense took a big hit Wednesday , but in the long run, the player leaving may help the program with more publicity at the next level.
Star wide receiver Gabriel Davis has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the upcoming NFL draft.
— Gabriel Davis (@DavisGB1) December 4, 2019
Davis is a true “Florida Boy” growing up in Sanford, and playingl ball at Seminole High school. He has been dominant in his time at UCF, has become one of the best wideouts in the state, arguably the best in his conference and one of the more underrated players in the country.
His numbers have improved each season. As a freshman, he had 27 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had 53 catches for 815 yards and seven touchdowns. Then, this season Davis had 72 catches for 1,241 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Last season Davis finished on the American All-conference second team. This year, however, he finds himself on the first team and will hope the accolades don’t stop there.
Davis has all of the prototypical traits to be an “X” receiver in the NFL. He has the size at 6’3, but could work on his frame, getting up his listed weight at 212 pounds. In the passing league that is the NFL, teams are always looking for someone with big play ability. Davis is just that, averaging 16 yards a catch for his career.
He has the ability to take the top of a defense with his size and speed, which will intrigue scouts. One area of his game he will likely work on in the offseason will be running after the catch.
We all know his ability to kill you downfield, but scouts will also want to see what he can do catching a short pass. With an absolutely stacked class at the position, it will be interesting to see where Davis goes when the draft rolls around.
Already underrated being from an AAC school expect that to continue during draft time, but also expect him to rise to the occasion.
UCF blows out USF- is it the end for Charlie Strong?
It wasn’t an unexpected result, as UCF won for the third straight time in the rivalry matchup with USF, 34 – 7 Friday night in Orlando. The bigger question is: was it the end for third-year Bulls coach Charlie Strong?
First to the game. The Knights got what they needed in the first half, as freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel led them on three scoring drives to build a 21 – 0 lead from which USF never recovered. Gabriel threw two touchdown passes to his favorite target this season, receiver Gabe Davis (above), and the lead grew to 24 – 0 at the half.
The same pattern continued with USF’s offense as has been the case for much of this season. The Bulls mounted a little to nothing offensively throughout the game until finally breaking through, when running back Johnny Ford scored on a fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter. That trimmed the lead to 24 – 7.
However, Backup QB Darriel Mack led the next Knights answer going 82 yards in 8 plays with Mack carrying two yards for UCF’s final TD of the evening and all but, putting the game away.
The win was UCF’s ninth on the season and they await to find out what bowl game the American Conference will slot them in. This is the first time in three years that the Knights have not played in the championship game of the American Conference. They won the previous two defeating the Memphis Tigers both times and ended up playing in a New Year’s Six bowl game each time, as well.
That included their loss in the Fiesta Bowl to LSU a year ago, which stopped their 25 game win streak.
Back to the Bulls, the loss was their fourth straight to end the year and Strong’s team limped to the finish line at 4 – 8. When you combine this season with losing the remaining six games a year ago, that’s 14 losses in the last 18 games played for Strong’s teams. Friday night was also the fifth loss by 27 points or more for USF this season.
So now, we all wait to see if USF Athletic Director Michael Kelly, who was hired last year, will get rid of the former Texas and Louisville coach or give him one final shot to turn it around in 2020?
Strong is reportedly owed at least $5 million for the remaining two years on his five-year deal that he agreed to in December of 2016.