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.
Week three power rankings are tighter at top
Week 2 of the college football season was not very kind to a handful off the state university’s last weekend. While week 1 of the NFL season was brutal for our in-state teams, as well. After a under whelming weekend for Florida football lets take a look at how things stack up in our rankings:
Florida Gators- The Gators were one of the only bright spots last week in the State. It took Florida until the 2nd quarter to find the endzone, which is something they surely didn’t envision. From there, they would head to an easy 45-0 victory over UT-Martin. The Gators did suffer two potential major losses on the night. RB/WR Kadarius Toney and DB C.J. Henderson were both injured and could miss the conference opener at Kentucky next week.
UCF Knights- UCF put up a lot of points (above) and a lot of yards, yet again. The Knights went over 500 yards and for the 28th game in a row put up 30 points. Freshman Dillon Gabriel silenced a crowd of over 30,000 that was the largest in program history for FAU. The Knights put up 14 points in both the first and second quarter on their way to a blowout victory. This week they face Stanford coming from California into the “Bounce House.”
This game was looking like a ranked match up before the Cardinal lost to USC late last Saturday night. Still, this is a big game for Knights against a Power-5 opponent and coach Josh Heupel knows they have to be impressive.
Florida State Seminoles- The Noles slide into the 3 spot or did they really back up into it? FSU was painfully close to loosing at home to ULM. Had the Warhawks gone for two, like many expected them to do, they might have walked out of Tallahassee with Willie Taggart contract in hand.
For the second week in a row the Noles had a 2nd half collapse. After leading 24-7 at the break they went into the 4th quarter still up 24-21, but then faltered badly, again, only to hang on 45-44 in OT. Heading into conference play this weekend the Noles will need to get a grip on things or they won’t end well starting at Virginia Saturday night.
Miami Hurricanes- The Canes were oh so close last week. In the first true road game of the year the U almost took one in Chapel Hill. Freshman Jarren Williams had a great bounce back performance throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns. After being down all game the Canes took the lead for the first time in the fourth quarter with 4:45 left to play.
The Hurricanes though still want this one back, as UNC freshman QB Sam Howell hit a 20-yard pass on 4th and 17 to keep the game winning drive going. The Canes would drive down the field to attempt a 49-yard field goal that was missed. Miami though should get into the win column next week against Bethune- Cookman.
Is it freshman QB Dillon Gabriel’s job at UCF already?
When quarterback Brandon Wimbush decided to transfer from Notre Dame to UCF, he knew he would be in a QB battle. After Darriel Mack Jr. went out with an off season broken ankle, it appeared the job was all his. However, in the season opener against FAMU, he split reps with freshman, Dillon Gabriel. Now, after Gabriel played the entire game Saturday night at FAU, we’re left to wonder if the job belongs to the freshman?
Both QBs had played well against the over-matched Rattlers in week one leaving the door open for more split duty. And, coach Josh Heupel even said the job wouldn’t be Wimbush’s 100 percent.
Well, against FAU this past Saturday though it was just the freshman Gabriel who saw all the action. Wimbush was held out with an undisclosed injury, and now the question is? will he get back in immediately? Gabriel went only 7/19, but had touchdown passes of 57 and 74 yards ending the night with 245 yards:
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 7, 2019
That many yards on that few completions shows the big play potential of UCF’s offense, and Gabriel led four TD drives in the first half of the blowout win.
Heupel said Wimbush could have played in an emergency and didn’t say anything about his availability for this weekend’s game Stanford.
After just being involved in a QB controversy that saw him go to the bench last year at Notre Dame, Wimbush might have walked right into another one in Orlando. If he is indeed healthy enough to play in the game against Stanford, it will be interesting to see who starts?
This will be one of the bigger games for the Knights this season and Wimbush has played in some big games in his career from his time in South Bend. We don’t know right now, but come Saturday we may find out what Heupel and has staff think of Gabriel leading them, at least for now. And, do we have a real QB controversy on our hands?
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