As the UCF Knights entered the 2008 season, most people focused on their gaping hole at the running back position, after consensus All-American and Heisman Trophy contender Kevin Smith left the team for the NFL.
Analysts and fans turned their attention to who would be Smith’s replacement and who would fill the void left by his shoes. But, what people seemed to forget was the emerging quarterback issues that the team had after the departure of Kyle Israel to graduation. Many fans were disappointed with Israel and criticized him for his lack of composure with the game on the line, namely his performance in the Knights 2007 bowl game against Mississippi State, which the Knights lost 10-3.
But, all in all, Israel was a decent quarterback and one of the primary reasons why UCF was the Conference-USA Champions that year (the main reason being Kevin Smith’s outstanding play). With Israel leaving, the Knights turned to junior Michael Greco and true freshman Rob Calabrese as the team’s potential replacements at the quarterback position.
From the start, it was pretty clear that neither player was the team’s long term solution at quarterback. Greco was limited to his running game, where he was talented as a scrambler, but he never displayed any other attributes and was eventually moved to safety at the end of the season.
Calabrese showed flashes of potential in his freshman year, eventually moving up the depth charts to emerge as the team’s starting quarterback. He led the team in passing yards (664) and touchdown passes (seven), but his play was very inconsistent and he led the team to a dismal 4-8 record and UCF finished dead last in offense in the FBS.
During the most recent offseason, UCF head coach George O’Leary named Calabrese the starter for the 2009 season. But, in the midst of the sophomore being named as the starter, the Knights picked up redshirt senior quarterback Brett Hodges, a transfer from Wake Forest University. Hodges was the backup for the Demon Deacons and received limited playing time in his three years at the ACC University.
When Hodges came to Orlando, the team slotted him as backup quarterback to Calabrese. In UCF’s season opener against a no-name Samford University, Calabrese struggled early in the game. He went three-for-seven for a grand total of 28 yards. So, in the middle of the second quarter, O’Leary decided to replace Calabrese with the newcomer, Brett Hodges.
Hodges shined in his UCF debut, completing 10 of 17 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown pass, ultimately saving the game for the Knights in a close 28-24 victory.
Last week, in UCF’s Conference-USA opener against Southern Miss, Calabrese faltered early, fumbling the ball during a QB sneak, which led to a Golden Eagle touchdown. He was immediately replaced by Hodges, who once again stepped up for the Knights, completing 15-of-26 passes for 158 yards and two touchdown passes.
Although the Knights ended up falling short in the game, it was evident that Hodges was the dominant QB and deserves to be UCF’s starter. In just two games with the Knights, the Wake Forest transfer has already compiled 287 passing yards and three touchdowns, compared to Calabrese’s 49 yards and zero touchdown passes.
Hodges age and experience in a tougher conference has propelled him past Calabrese and he is the clear favorite to be UCF’s go to quarterback for at least the rest of the season.
Hodges is a player that comes from the ACC, where he’s used to seeing nationally ranked squads such as Florida State, Miami, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech on a consistent basis. Although he didn’t play much during his tenure at Wake Forest, he still had first hand experiences with top ranked teams and high pressure situations.
With his move to a softer conference, Hodges has the potential to excel in his new role. He has already outplayed his competition in Rob Calabrese and proven that he is of much value to the team. Hodges can provide a veteran leadership to a young UCF team and guide them through a tough schedule, where the Knights will face off against the likes of No. 20 Miami and No. 2 Texas.
Just as UCF looked lost at the quarterback position, Hodges has appeared to be the team’s answer.
Hopefully, with the new found confidence in having a reliable quarterback, the Knights will succeed in 2009 and have the potential to compete for the Conference championship.