The Central Florida Knights took full advantage of their new conference in 2013 and ran the table in the AAC to score their first (and only) BCS bid in school history. Thanks to the automatic bid of the conference to the BCS, UCF was able to show what they can do on a major stage and looked impressive against the highly favored Baylor Bears in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, winning a 52-42 shootout to finish the season at 12-1. But with their top two playmakers leaving early for the NFL in 2014, don’t expect the Knights to match their incredible run next fall.
UCF went perfect in conference play to secure their BCS bid thanks in large part to the efforts of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson. Bortles took off in his second year as the starting quarterback for the Knights, providing consistent production and clutch leadership when the team needed it most. He finished his junior season passing for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns to follow up his sophomore season when he threw for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns. His consistency, accuracy, and ability to make plays through the air have propelled Bortles to the top of many NFL Draft boards this season.
Johnson came to UCF from the Miami Hurricanes as a transfer looking for a fresh start. After spending 2012 as a backup, Johnson stepped up as the starter in 2013 and provided much-needed balance to the Knights’ offense as he rushed for 1,139 yards with 14 touchdowns, highlighted by his 124-yard, 3-touchdown performance against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. He led the AAC in rushing this season and was the only rusher in the conference to go over 1,000 yards or 10 touchdowns this season.
With both of them moving on, George O’Leary has a couple of huge holes to fill. While the team as a group will only lose seven scholarship seniors in 2014, there is not a clear successor to Bortles at quarterback. Both quarterbacks behind Bortles on the roster (Justin Holman and Pete DiNovo) are freshmen with Holman being the only one to record a pass this season. He went 9-of-14 for 75 yards with one touchdown and one interception while appearing in just three games. Former backup Tyler Gabbert would have been in line to take over but he left the team earlier this season due to a lack of playing time.
Running back production will be a little easier to come by in 2014 as freshman William Stanback served as Johnson’s backup this season, recording 443 yards on 105 carries with six touchdowns, and looks ready to step into a more featured role in 2014. They will need to find some added depth behind Stanback, though, as no other running back recording more than 10 rushes this season or gained more than 20 yards.
Together, Bortles and Johnson provided the vast majority of offensive production for UCF in 2013. Without either of them coming back in 2014, don’t expect the Knights to replicate their run next fall.