Monday was the first day of spring practice for UCF, and arguably their most intriguing unanswered question is: who will step to the forefront and quarterback Josh Heupel’s team in 2019?
Obviously, the starter from the last two and a half years and arguably the heart and soul of UCF, McKenzie Milton, is out with what could end up being a career-ending leg injury. So, someone else will have to the take over the controls.
Or could it be a “combination of someones” for the black and gold, as this season gets underway.
There’s the returning starter from the end of last year, a transfer and a “Milton-clone” freshman from Hawaii. And, all three quarterbacks met with the media after the initial workout:
LIVE with the QBs after Day 1 of 2019 Spring 🏈:
⚔️ DJ Mack
⚔️ Brandon Wimbush
⚔️ Dillon Gabriel https://t.co/r3LMum5Nvx
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) March 4, 2019
Redshirt sophomore Darriel Mack has the initial inside track to remain as the starter. Mack replaced Milton at the end of last year, starting with the regular season finale’ win over USF. He then, started and led the Knights to their victory in the AAC championship game over Memphis (photo above) the following week.
Mack then played the biggest game of his career starting against LSU in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day. However, he was largely ineffective against the SEC powerhouse defense he went against and the Tigers stopped the Knights 25 game win streak.
Mack obviously knows Heupel’s offense and their personnel giving him the clear advantage.
Then again, another intriguing option is Notre Dame fifth-year transfer Brandon Wimbush. He came to the Knights in hopes of being able to become the starter by September.
Wimbush just completed his redshirt junior season and was a successful starter in 2017. Wimbush 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.
However, he went to the bench this past season after the first three games being replaced by coach Brian Kelly in favor of Ian Book. Book led the Irish to six consecutive wins to get their record to 9- 0 before suffering a rib injury against Northwestern.
Wimbush replaced him in Notre Dame’s 42-13 romp over Florida State (above) in South Bend on November 10th. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for 68 yards in that victory.
Book then returned for the last two wins over Syracuse and USC to finish a perfect regular season. The Fighting Irish were blown out by eventual National Champion Clemson in the Cotton Bowl 30-3.
Wimbush told the media Monday that being given the chance to compete at a program like UCF was all that he was looking for in his transfer.
Then, for UCF, there’s the third opotion, true freshman Dillon Gabriel. He has followed in Milton’s footsteps from the Hawaiian Islands all the way to the Sunshine State. Gabriel is from Mililani, Hawaii where he threw for nearly 10,000 yards and 105 touchdowns in his career and ended up breaking the Hawaii High School career record for passing yards.
Gabriel is 6 ft and 185 lb and similarly built in that regard to Milton. However, he’s not the same runner that Milton is, at least at this stage.
So, there is no shortage of talent for Heupel to choose from in the upcoming battle this month and starting for real in August.
USF and UCF got American Conference 2020 schedules Tuesday
On Tuesday afternoon the American Athletic Conference made official is 2020 football dates for opponents for its conference members. And, that means UCF and USF got to look for the first time at their full conference slates and when they are playing whom.
First for the Knights, they learned that they will open year three of coach Josh Heupel’s conference play on Thursday night September 24th at East Carolina. It is one of three stand-alone weeknight(day) games UCF has on their schedule.
The next one will be Friday night October 16th, as UCF travels to play the Memphis Tigers. That’s a team that the Knights defeated for two Conference Championship Game victories in 2017 and 18.
— American Football (@American_FB) February 18, 2020
UCF will also play a traditional “War on I-4” game with the rival Bulls on the Friday after Thanksgiving November 27th. This will be the fourth straight year of playing on “Black Friday.”
As for the Knights other part of the league schedule, they will have their AAC home opener with Tulsa on Saturday October 3rd and then, finish the slate with two huge home matchups with Temple Saturday November 14th followed by Cincinnati at Spectrum Stadium the following week.
For the Bulls, who welcome first year coach Jeff Scott in 2020, they will only have two standalone appearances in conference play. Those will be a Friday night home game October 23rd with Tulsa and then, the previously mentioned final rivalry game with UCF on Friday November 27th.
The Bulls first conference game of the season will be at Cincinnati on October 3rd, while the home opener is East Carolina the following week at Raymond James Stadium.
USF has a tough road slate beginning at Temple on October 17th and then, after the Friday night home game with Tulsa, playing at Memphis November 7th and at Houston November 14th.
The conference is playing 2020 with only 11 members, as UConn has departed and gone back to the Big East. This will also be the first time that the AAC doesn’t play a two six team division format and will instead take the top two ranked teams in conference play for it’s December Championship Game.
Speedy former UCF RB Killins looks to impress at Shrine Bowl
One-player eager to start showcasing himself Saturday afternoon in the pre-draft process in St Petersburg is former UCF speedster RB, Adrian Killins.
Killins ,who just finished four years of highlight runs and touchdowns for the the Knights will participate in the East-West Shrine Bowl.
— East-West Shrine Bowl (@ShrineBowl) December 2, 2019
Killins is generously listed at 5’9 and 165 lb. and came UCF without much fanfare from Daytona Mainland High School. However, he had been an explosive player on the football gridiron, and he was also a former two time 3A State 200m track champion before coming to Orlando.
Once at UCF in 2016, Killins immediately showed off his explosiveness and moniker of “fastest player in college football” with a 100-yard kickoff return at ECU and an 87 yard touchdown run at “the Big House” in Ann Arbor against Michigan.
His best season was his sophomore year, when he was named First Team All American Athletic Conference RB, as he rushed for 790 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead UCF. He showed versatility and caught another additional 25 passes for 169 yards.
He also set a UCF record for longest play from scrimmage that still stands, in the UCF regular season win over Memphis, as he took a handoff and the looked like a missle racing down the sideline:
Longest run in @UCF_Football history ✔️
Longest run in @American_FB history ✔️
2nd-longest in NCAA this year ✔️
— UCF Football (@UCF_Football) October 1, 2017
Killins helped the Knights experience their greatest season ever at 13 – 0 with not only a thrilling double-overtime conference title game rematch win over the Tigers, but a New Year’s Day upset of SEC Powerhouse Auburn in the Peach Bowl for the perfect season.
His next two years under Josh Heupel and his new coaching staff were not as spectacular. But, he still he would make the occasional explosive run and finished his career with over 1,700 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.
He did leave a final impression with his 115 yards and 1 TD in the regular season finale with USF.
Now, he knows that with his smaller size, even with blazing speed, he will be challenged to stick on an NFL roster, and another way might be as a kick returner. Killins left UCF with a career 21.8 avg on 47 returns as a Knight.
He will likely need to show that part of his game to help him get a realistic shot at the next level. And, we wait to see if there will be explosive plays from him Saturday.