College Football season is finally upon us!
And with that comes the analysis going into the first game of the season for the UCF Knights.
With that in mind, here are a few things to watch for in the season opener against Samford:
1) Season Openers Have Been Very Good to The Knights
First thing that Knights fans should know is that the team is 3-0 in the last three season openers (against Villanova, NC State and SC State), winning these matchups by a combined score of 77-39. Of these three games, two were played at home and against FCS opponents (Villanova & SC State). This track record, while a small sample size, is definitely something that works in UCF's favor.
2) Not In Our House!
In home openers, the Knights have been quite successful in the O'Leary era, only losing to the Texas Longhorns in a 35-32 nailbiter to open up Brighthouse Networks Stadium in 2007.
Teams have complained about what some fans call the "steel death trap" of Brighthouse Networks Stadium due to how loud it can get down there on the field. In fact, learning from his mistake when the Knights faced the Tulsa Golden Hurricane earlier in the season, Tulsa head coach Todd Graham had to set up signs in order to get signals to then-quarterback Paul Smith during the 2007 Conferece USA Championship.
The Knights ultimately won that matchup 44-25 on the legs of all-conference running back, Kevin Smith.
3) Front Seven on Defense Return
All-conference linemen Bruce Miller & Torrell Troup return along with holdover linebackers Cory Hogue, Lawrence Young & Jordan Richards to form one of the better pass-rushing defenses in Conference USA. Needless to say, this should help in getting pressure on Samford quarterback Dustin Taliaferro, as well as form a brick wall for running back Chris Evans to try & run through.
4) An Improved Offense...please?
I may have been one of the happiest people on the planet when former Offensive Coordinator, Tim Salem, was "reassigned" to special teams duty. This meant a possible move from what some fans considered the "run n' punt" offense. Salem's run-heavy scheme worked when the ball was being handed off to Kevin Smith.
As most Knights fans know, the three-headed monster of Ronnie Weaver, Brynn Harvey & Brandon Davis was no replacement for "24K" last season.
When O'Leary tabbed Charlie Taafe to make over the offense, it meant a more pass-friendly spread scheme. This plays perfectly with the depth the team has at wide receiver, with Kamar Aiken, A.J. Guyton & Rocky Ross coming off of injury-plagued seasons.
5) A Year Older, A Year Wiser
Being thrown into the position of starting quarterback for a FBS team can't be easy. Rob Calabrese could possibly be the perfect example of that.
Replacing Michael Greco as the starter mid-season, Calabrese took his lumps at the position, putting up the worst completion percentage in all of Division I football. In his defense, he was working with the walking dead at wide receiver, as well as learning on the job. No one could have expected he'd come in and the team's season would be saved.
That was last year.
Beating out third year sophomore Joe Weatherford and Wake Forest transfer Brett Hodges in a fall competition, Calabrese must show this season that he can be the man to take this team back to conference championships and beyond. His blend of speed and arm strength should be very helpful in Taafe's scheme and with a year of reading defenses under his belt, he should be much improved.
His first test will be the Samford Bulldogs.
These are some of the finer points going into this game coming up on Saturday. While against a FCS team coming off its first winning season, this game should not be taken lightly by the Knights (and to be honest, after last year's showing, no team should be taken lightly).
With the offseason changes as well as the maturation at several positions, the Knights should come away with a victory this weekend.
Prediction: UCF beats Samford 31-14