George O'Leary and the UCF Knights are looking to rebound from a 4-8 (3-4 C-USA) '08 record this year. They will utilize their game-hardened 18 returning starters, including starting quarterback Rob Calabrese.
However, a tough schedule, which includes several tough Conference USA matches, threatens the possibility of the Knights coming out of the hole that has been dug for them in recent years.
In addition to the excruciatingly horrible offensive play Knights fans had to endure in the seats of Bright House Stadium last year, the squad was beaten down by loads of controversy and tabloid-worthy stories. These include George O'Leary's refusal to speak to the Orlando Sentinel during the '08 season, and the early '08 offseason death of Ereck Plancher, a redshirt wide receiver who struggled and collapsed during an intense workout.
Are the Knights, including the coaching staff, prepared to handle the bad publicity surrounding their program, and rise above the competition this year?
Season ticket sales are down, reflecting both the economy and lack of confidence fans have for the upcoming season. Coach O'Leary's record at UCF is 26-36, and Knight Nation is getting fed up.
Other than a season opener at home against 1-AA Samford, the team will have to focus and execute nearly flawlessly in order to beat teams like Texas, Southern Miss, East Carolina, Miami (FL), and Houston. Southern Miss, a Conference-USA team, is looking exceptionally ready for a winning season.
What will the Knights have to do to prove their critics wrong?
Offensively, UCF returns 10 offensive starters, which at first glance, doesn't seem promising in any fashion. However, the wild card this season is new offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe, a former CFL coach and coordinator.
He's been the biggest offseason offensive move, and is poised to improve on the horrifying 113th ranking UCF held in points scored in '08.
The team was last in the nation in yards per game.
Quarterback Calabrese, who returns as a sophomore, will have to work extremely hard this season; his responsibilities has been increased.
The passing game will be upgraded, and the spread will be implemented. Luckily for Calabrese, the three top pass catchers from last year—Brian Waters, Kamar Aiken, and Khynest Williams—are returning, and Brynn Harvey, the leader in the '08 running game with 519 yards, will be back as well.
If these components can lead their less experienced teammates effectively, the offense should improve immensely.
Defensively, seven starters are return to a group that allowed 24.1 points per game (54th in the nation) and 333.8 yards per game (43rd). Those aren't bad numbers, but they were forced to up the ante in order to win, because the offense couldn't put points on the board.
The defensive front seven is strong and is led by junior defensive end Bruce Miller, who recorded seven sacks last year. The team is also very strong a defensive tackle, a major reason why the team was first against the run in the conference last year.
Junior Lawrence Young put up 72 tackles last year. The secondary will have four new starters, the freshest component of the defense. Obviously, D is not the team's main concern.
In all, with an improved offense, the team will surely look better than last season, but Knights fans shouldn't be preparing for glory in any shape or form in '09.
UCF's record should look dismally close to last year's record, crushing a senior Central Florida class that hasn't seen anything from their team except disappointment.