And now, time to follow up on a perfect 2017. That’s it. That’s all.
How do you equal, much less top, last season’s 13-0 record with a New Year’s Day Peach Bowl triumph over SEC power Auburn?
Well, UCF has that task and their first steps begin Saturday afternoon with their Spring game in Orlando.
The good news for the Knights is that despite a new coaching staff, they’ve got the most talented, proven playmaking quarterback in the state to lead them. And, he begins our three things to watch.
McKenzie Milton is back
The talented junior QB from Hawaii is at the controls after a 2017 that was literally one for the UCF record books. He set the new UCF highs for passing yards, completion percentage and touchdown passes (35) in a single season. And, being the dual threat that he is, Milton ran for another 497 yards and seven more TD’s on the campaign.
He also threw a record five TD passes in the Knights thrilling double OT American Conference Title Game win over Memphis last December. Milton is a preseaon possibility for AAC player of the year and also going to get early Heisman consideration, if he performs well. Now, can he live up to expectations?
New coach Josh Heupel and his staff lead the Knights for the first time
Heupel is a former National Championship winning quarterback from Oklahoma, and most recently, was the very successful offensive coordinator for Missouri in 2017. Last season, the Mizzou offense broke records themselves, including QB Drew Lock breaking the SEC single season touchdown pass record, and also the Missouri single game TD pass record with seven.
Scott Frost did an amazing job resurrecting UCF from a winless 0-12 in 2015 to an unbeaten 13-0 just two years later. In the History of NCAA football a school had never been at least 0-10 in a season and then at least 10-0 two seasons after that. Well, as you now know, Frost moved on to coach his alma matter, Nebraska.
So, Heupel takes the baton. He will call the plays and former Miami Hurricanes coach and last year’s Gators defensive coordinator and interim head coach Randy Shannon is the new Knights defensive coordinator.
Will be able to sustain the level of play on both sides of the ball? That’s a good question.
Replacing Stars on both sides
As with any successful college program, you have good and even, great, players, but they eventually move from graduation to leaving for NFL dreams. The Knights have three such players off last year’s outstanding team that are now gone and maybe drafted fairly soon in the upcoming NFL Draft.
First, Milton’s favorite target, Tre’Quan Smith left a year early after a spectacular 2017 where he caught for over 1,300 yards. He is projected to be a 2nd-3rd round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Who will step up starting with this Spring game to replace that production?
On defense, the intriguing story of LB/safety Shaquem Griffin culminated with him winning the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, and starring in the Peach Bowl win with two sacks. He’s now gone, but has a great portion of the NFL fans are now aware of his story and rooting for him to get selected in the NFL on the second or third day of the draft.
And finally, you lost arguably the best defensive back in the American Conference, Mike Hughes. Hughes has excellent speed and cover skills and may end up being a first round pick himself in two weeks. He also was an explosive kick returner, including his game winning TD return to beat arch rival USF last November.
These names won’t be easy to forget, but others must now start trying to take their places.
Groundwork laid for UCF QB McKenzie Milton to be part of AAF Spring league?
He has yet to take the practice field to get ready for his junior season with UCF, but an interesting scenario has already come up involving the Knights rising star quarterback McKenzie Milton.
First, it’s understood that if Milton is healthy and plays anything like his stellar 2017 in the upcoming season, he will be under Heisman Trophy consideration. In fact, we wrote about UCF already cranking up the hype for Milton last month.
And, if he and the Knights enjoy great success, then Milton would hope to get opportunity in the winter and eventually the Spring, with the NFL and their draft. However, Milton is listed at 5’11 185lbs., and that’s not likely big enough to get a strong look at signal caller at that next level.
Unless, that “next level” of pro football might be the newly formed Allliance of American Football spring league that begins play in February.
With a franchise in Orlando.
Coached by, Steve Spurrier.
And, playing in Milton’s college venue, Spectrum Stadium, on the UCF campus.
The AAF has already announced all of its eight franchises for year one, the coaches, and the GM’s. And, has now begun to lay out it’s tryouts and how its player allocation will be done. Not surprisingly, the new league will emphasize having regions dictate who likely plays where. This makes sense from a marketing and ticket sales standpoint.
And Milton fits that for Orlando and the AAF perfectly.
Oh, and look at what we have here?
Spurrier and Milton were together at an Orlando radio station event on Wednesday and met for the first time:
— UCF Marc Daniels (@ucf_marcdaniels) July 11, 2018
Spurrier, who is one of the great offensive play-calling minds in college football history, is in obvious need of a trigger man for his offense.
Again, it’s far fetched, but Milton, or someone like him, would be perfect as a dual threat QB to run the “Head Ball Coach’s” plays. Milton, who was the American Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2017, and had 46 combined throwing and running TDs in 13 games last year.
Spurrier made it no secret last month that the Orlando franchise would entertain trying to sign fellow Gators legend QB Tim Tebow, too. However, Tebow is still progressing for the Mets in Double-A and went one for four in the Eastern League All-Star game Wednesday night. He will likely get a chance to play for New York in September. He also has his well paying television job with the SEC Network, too.
And, there are other quarterbacks that Spurrier could go to and several may have immediate interest in their training camps this fall.
Yet, a McKenzie Milton-Steve Spurrier marriage would very intriguing.
And, very sellable for the AAF, too.
Former UCF kicker De la Haye scored victory in Federal Court Tuesday
It isn’t the final outcome. However, former UCF kicker Donald De la Haye and his lawyers got a large victory in their First Amendment lawsuit against UCF, when the judge denied the school’s motion to dismiss in a ruling released Tuesday.
Siding with De la Haye, who had his scholarship revoked last August when he refused to stop accepting Youtube money for his UCF football related content, Senior District Judge Anne Conway ruled that De la Haye can proceed with his claim against the school.
UCF's motion to dismiss Donald De La Haye YouTube lawsuit denied https://t.co/yESr0ZbQYG
— Shannon Green (@IamShannonGreen) July 10, 2018
Conway heard arguments 29 days ago in Orlando, including UCF trying to get the lawsuit stopped on the grounds that it’s not a First Amendment issue.
One of De la Haye’s lawyers, John Riches commented to the Sentinel after the ruling,
“We hope that today’s decision denying UCF’s attempt to dismiss this case will be a step toward protecting Donald’s rights and ensuring all college student-athletes’ free speech rights are protected.”
As we wrote at the time of the arguments, De la Haye is not seeking monetary damages at this time. Rather, he wants his scholarship re-instated and to kick for the Knights this season. He was unable to afford walking on to the team last year.
As Green reported Tuesday, UCF had not commented on losing this significant phase and whether they intend to appeal Tuesday’s ruling.
The judge did grant the school’s dismissal of the claim that De la Haye’s 14th Amendment “Due Process” rights had been violated. De la Haye had been given able warning about taking down the Youtube channel, if he would not stop posting video content that included UCF footabll related activities for his own financial gain.
The school also spent time negotiating options with the NCAA that included him being allowed to stay on scholarship and keep the channel, as long as the school football related content stopped. They obviously successfully argued their opposition to the due process claim to the court.
Most importantly, this is not final victory for De la Haye, he will either have to get a settlement from the school to get re-instated or win a judgement on the merits of his case from the court later.
The problem is, with fall practice beginning later this month, the clock is ticking on him winning outright and settlement is likely De la Haye’s best hope.
American Athletic Conference wants fan vote for “Fifth Anniversary” team
Granted, the American Athletic Conference has not been around that long, but still, there have been some memorable teams, players and moments.
And now, the AAC wants the fans to get involved in balloting for a “Fifth Anniversary Team.” On Monday the conference laid out the voting parameters and the nominees on their official website:
Fans, cast your vote today for the American Athletic Conference Fifth Anniversary Football Team.https://t.co/OpbMCUrEjc
Voting closes July 13. Help us recognize the best of The American in our first five years. pic.twitter.com/zU2HHyVBPz
— American Football (@American_FB) July 2, 2018
From a portion of the AAC release:
“The American will name its Fifth Anniversary Team July 24 at the conference’s annual Summer Kickoff and Media Days in Newport, Rhode Island.
The fan balloting will be one of three components that will determine the team, along with votes from the 12 football-playing schools and the local and national media that covers The American.”
The release then spelled out some interesting names for the voting and we’ll focus mainly on the Bulls and Knights.
This includes a tough call at quarterback, where only two names can be chosen from the likes of UCF’s Blake Bortles and McKenzie Milton, plus USF’s Quinton Flowers, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville, Kennan Reynolds of Navy, Greg Ward of Houston and Paxton Lynch of Memphis.
In the cases of Bortles, Milton, Bridgewater and Ward, they all won the conference title and then, a “New Year’s Six” bowl game upset. Flowers and Reynolds are two tremendous statistical dual threat QB’s and Lynch had two tremendous seasons for the Tigers, as well.
Not an easy call.
At running back, USF’s all time leading running back rusher, Marlon Mack and UCF’s Storm Johnson, who ran for 1,300 yards in their magical Fiesta Bowl season of 2013 headline the AAC’s list.
Interesting that UCF’s Breshard Perriman is the only Knight or Bull on the receiver ballot.
Meanwhile, the defensive line has names like USF’s Aaron Lynch, and UCF’s Jamiyus Pittman make the nominees, and at linebacker, the Bulls Auggie Sanchez, a three time all AAC performer, is on the list. Also there is the “feel good” story in the history of the conference in Shaquem Griffin, who was AAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and helped lead the Knights to their unbeaten Peach Bowl wining season last year.
(No. They aren’t “National Champions.)
Players like UCF DB Mike Hughes, USF’s Deatrick Nichols, and Knights safety Clayton Geathers, a two time all conference selection are par of the secondary balloting.
And finally, USF’s Emilo Nadelman is battling for the top place kicker honors, too.
The fan portion of the voting will continue through July 13th.
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