2011 College Football Predictions: 7 Reasons UCF Is a BCS Sleeper
After the best season in school history that included a bowl win against Georgia and a top 25 BCS ranking, the UCF Knights have high expectations for the 2011 football season. However, with the loss of some talented players in key positions, most critics at the national level don't believe another breakout year is possible. So what makes the Knights so full of expectation for the 2011 season?
Assistant Head Coach and Wide Receivers Coach David Kelly has made a name for himself. Not for his work during practice or game day, but as a nationally recognized recruiter. Kelly is responsible for the top recruits of the 2010 class: Jeff Godfrey, Josh Reese, and Torrian Wilson. He is also responsible for the top recruits from the best class in school history, the 2011 class, including DaMarcus Smith, Leilon Willingham, and Toby Jackson. Between these two classes, UCF has finally achieved one of its major goals, DEPTH.
Reason #1: Jeff Godfrey
Sophomore dual threat QB Jeff Godfrey is back to lead the Knights in 2011. In 2010, Godfrey passed for 2,159 yards and 13 TDs with a 66.8% completion percentage and rushed for 566 yards and 10 TDs. He was the highest rated freshman QB going into the bowl game last year. This year, the team captain has a year of experience and has been given control of the playbook. With talented weapons at every position in his arsenal, Godfrey looks to have an even better year.
Because of his height, Godfrey was never supposed to play quarterback at the college level, but UCF Head Coach George O'Leary gave him a shot when FSU, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, USF and Tennessee wanted to use him at cornerback. Godfrey was the difference maker on the field, not because of his talent, but because of his leadership and his ability to rally his teammates to victory.
Ron Jaworski said, "The heartbeat of a football team is the quarterback position and I think everyone who has any intelligence about the game understands you must have consistency at that position to be a championship team." Jeff Godfrey embodies what it means to be a quarterback. He has already predicted an undefeated 2011 season and a BCS bowl berth.
Reason #2: Troy Davis
DE Bruce Miller left some big shoes to fill. He holds the record for most quarterback sacks by an active player through the 2010 season and scared most passers into early off-balance throws. Most critics have said that leaves UCF with a big gaping hole on the right side of the field. While Bruce Miller will go in the books as one of the greatest players in UCF history, his shoes have already been filled.
DE Troy Davis was molded in the image of Bruce Miller and has been his understudy for the past two years. He's hungry and finally has a chance at first blood. Ranked third on the team in sacks with 5.5 in 2010, when he did fill Miller's shoes he brought the hurt. During UCF's spring game this year, Davis recorded 5 sacks and 6 tackles and he says he's just waiting for his next victim.
He shared a sack with Miller in the Liberty Bowl against Georgia that sealed the game and the win for UCF. Davis spent the off-season in Orlando working on strength training and improving his foot work. He enters 2011 as one of UCF's best all-around players and a serious threat to opposing offenses.
The only two players who brought more pressure last year were Bruce Miller and...
Reason #3: Darius Nall
Arguably UCF's best all-around defensive player, DE Darius Nall played behind David Williams in 2010 and somehow managed to tie Bruce Miller for most team sacks with 8.5. Nall will start on the left corner of the defensive line in 2011 and will team with Davis to bring pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
He finished 2010 with 23 solo tackles, 8 assists and 1 forced fumble. Missing some of 2009 and all of 2008 after battling back from cancer, Nall still managed to rack up 45 tackles, 20 assists, 13.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. The rising senior will be looked to for leadership this year and with talented depth behind him, he will have plenty of mentoring to do. Nall may be hungrier than Davis and will not settle for his scraps. This duo will make plenty of headlines this year.
Their leftovers will fall to junior college transfers Toby Jackson and Cam Henderson, who incidentally helped their Navarro Junior College team win the JUCO National Championship. Jackson, originally a Georgia commit out of high school, signed with UCF in the off-season. Henderson was also highly recruited out of high school and chose to sign with UCF over Baylor, Arizona, and USF. LeBranden Richardson rounds out the group as Godfrey's former high school teammate has been fighting for playing time with these monsters.
Reason #4: Latavius Murray
Stealing the starting job away from Ronnie Weaver last season, TB Latavius Murray (or Tay) earned his lunch by racking up 637 yards and 11 TDs in 2010. He also won MVP of the C-USA Championship with a rushing TD and a receiving TD that put the Knights out of reach of SMU with a final score of 17-7. He also won MVP of the Autozone Liberty Bowl by scoring the game's lone TD that proved to be the difference with the final score 10-6. It was UCF's first bowl win over SEC legacy powerhouse Georgia.
Murray says the starting position is his to lose this year, and he'll have to work for it every down because UCF has arguably the best backfield in the FBS. Hot on his heels are Ronnie Weaver, last year's workhorse who totalled 890 yards and 11 TDs, and Brynn Harvey. Harvey tore his ACL in the spring last year and was forced to redshirt the 2010 season. He was voted a preseason all conference back prior to the 2010 season after amassing 1,109 yards and 14 TDs in 2009.
Charlie Taafe, UCF's Offensive Coordinator, has toyed with the idea of a two back set and other nuances this year. It will be interesting to see how this very deep running attack is executed. Taafe, who prefers the sidelines vs. the booth, will be a one man think tank this season and with the weapons he has, his options are limitless.
Reason #5: Quincy McDuffie
When running is not an option, Godfrey will look to Quincy McDuffie in the pass attack. Godfrey is no stranger to the passing game, holding the Miami-Dade County record for high school career passing yards with 7,251. In 2010, his favorite targets were Brian Watters, Jamar Newsome, and Kamar Aiken. Having lost those three to graduation and the NFL, McDuffie will be one of the major go-to options this season.
Rated the fourth fastest player in the FBS, McDuffie has a 4.3 second 40-yard dash and it showed in 2010 in the kick return game. He earned second team All-America honors for his kickoff return work last season and there is no sign of stopping. He returned 3 kickoffs for touchdowns in 2010, but one was called back due to a holding penalty (first play of the Liberty Bowl).
This season, Coach George O'Leary has made it clear that McDuffie will play a much bigger role at wide receiver and the offense will make use of his amazing breakaway speed. Quincy has stepped up to meet the mark and leads the WR core along with senior leader A.J. Guyton. Guyton took a backseat to Watters, Newsome, and Aiken last season, but will be a huge impact player this season as the most experienced receiver.
Newcomers J.J. Worton and Josh Reese look to push the starters for playing time and, with their talent, may end up with the starting job by the end of the season. Rob Calabrese rounds out the WR core and will line up in the slot, giving a big body and additional leadership on the field this season.
Reason #6: Josh Robinson and Kemal Ishmael
Already on the tongues of many, CB Josh Robinson is arguably the best cover corner in college football. He enters the season on 5 watch lists (the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the College Football Performance Award for Punt Returner and Defensive Back, the Paul Hornung Award, and the Thorpe Award). His greatest accomplishment is that no quarterback will throw to his side of the field. He still managed to come up with two interceptions last year and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
He covers the punt return duties as well and must be the fifth fastest player in college football as he regularly ties or beats Quincy McDuffie in the 40. The tandem makes UCF one of the most dangerous special teams units that opponents face.
Robinson also held his own with major receiving threats in and out of conference all season. He held Aldrick Robinson out of the end zone and assisted in stopping DeAndre Brown. He also held A.J. Green to 77 yards and no TDs in the Liberty Bowl.
He is a tandem with FS Kemal Ishmael. The two regularly antagonize backs, receivers, and even quarterbacks on occasion. They make up one of the strongest defensive backfields in the FBS and first in the conference. They were both named to the all conference preseason team this year
Kemal Ishmael is responsible for swatting the ball to the ground that ended the Liberty Bowl, defeated Georgia, and gave UCF its first bowl victory. He has a total of 163 tackles in just two seasons and has established himself as one of UCF's greats.
Reason #7: Josh Linam and the Linebacker Corps
The only returning linebacker from 2010, Josh Linam firmly plants himself in the middle of the defense and makes the calls. The senior ILB established the team record for tackles last season and he's only getting better. During a recent scrimmage, he set the tempo and held the offense to minor gains. During 2010, he racked up 78 tackles including 9 TFL. He is very vocal and has set the tone for those in front and behind. He's also hungry and is eager to put the hurt on another jersey.
Linam, a senior, will not only be responsible for the defense as a whole, but also for the other linebackers' development. Highly touted recruits OLB Leilon Willingham and OLB Terrance Plummer have stepped up in the preseason and will likely start on Linam's flanks. Their skill and talent is unbelievable and with a little guidance before the start of the season, the cohesion factor should fall into place nicely.
The corps is backed up by Godfrey's cousin and converted basketball player Ray Shipman, who proved in the preseason that he can keep up with anyone and isn't afraid to hit. Converted tailback Jonathan Davis rounds out the group and looks to drop some big hits.
The Secret Weapon
At 6'6" and 267 lbs, Adam Nissley is a bruiser. He is the definition of a tight end. He has the size and ability to be an additional right tackle. He has the agility and the power to bust through lines on power runs. He has the speed and height to be a strong receiving threat and he is definitely on his way to the NFL when his college career is over.
With the necessity for larger players to throw blocks downfield this season, Nissley will make headlines all year with his big hits and powerful presence.
UCF broke into the top 25 last season and will start there or close this season. Their ability to win every game has never been more possible, and UCF wants it. They are hungry, they are passionate, and they are more than capable.
The fans are the only thing UCF needs to be successful this season. I will be there to support them, will you?