As the Rant Sports 100 in 100 continues, the countdown moves to a former Conference USA power as they transition into the new American Athletic Conference with the UCF Knights coming at No. 73. George O’Leary is looking to lead the Knights through their new conference and find success at a higher level of competition in 2013.
Last season, UCF won 10 games as they went 7-1 in C-USA play behind a high-scoring offense. They will need that offense to get even better in 2013 as they take a step up in competition. Can O’Leary and the Knights take their new conference by storm in their inaugural run through the AAC?
The key to any success UCF has in 2013 will be quarterback Blake Bortles. Last season, Bortles threw for 3,059 yards while completing nearly 63 percent of his passes and throwing 25 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions. O’Leary is going to give Bortles an even bigger role in the offense next season, meaning he should take his game to another level.
He’ll be helped out by a deep and talented receiving corps that can make plays inside and out. Rannell Hall leads a group that sees the top four pass-catchers from 2012 return for next season and all of them will benefit from a year of experience and take their games to the next level to possibly be the best wide receiver group in the conference.
The running game will get a big boost as well with Storm Johnson poised to step up in a major way and show that he can be a complete back. Last season, he made excellent contributions as the change-of-pace back, running for 507 yards and scoring four touchdowns. In 2013, he’ll be the No. 1 back and will have to show exactly what he’s capable of.
The Knights will be counting on the offense heavily in 2013 because they don’t know what exactly they have on defensive side of the ball. Seven of the top ten tacklers from 2012 are gone, leaving plenty of unproven and untested players being forced into action. The little experience they do have, they will lean on heavily.
At linebacker, that means Terrance Plummer will have to become a major leader in the front seven. He was the leading tackler in the Knights’ front seven from 2012, racking up 108 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and an interception. He will be tasked with becoming a leader of a group that lost a ton of production due to graduation.
The secondary is likely in the best shape on defense with a pair of playmakers set to return for 2013. Juniors Clayton Geathers and Brandon Alexander both finished in the top ten on the team in tackles last season, combining for 179 tackles last season. They will need to step up their playmaking ability after the Knights lost it’s top three defensive backs in terms of interceptions.
UCF faces a tough test out of the gates in their non-conference schedule that will test the Knights early. In their third game, they will travel to play the Penn State Nittany Lions in Happy Valley before welcoming the South Carolina Gamecocks two weeks later at home. That will be a difficult slate that could put UCF around .500 before starting conference play.
Their conference schedule has some difficulties awaiting them as well. They have to go on the road to take on the Louisville Cardinals, who are of course heavy favorites to win the conference. They won’t have to face the Cincinnati Bearcats, a conference heavyweight, which should help them ease their way into the BCS ranks.
If O’Leary can get his offense humming, the Knights will be a dangerous foe week in and week out in 2013. There are too many questions on defense, however, for UCF to truly be considered a threat to the conference crown and they will muddle their way to the middle of the pack in 2013.