We are only 32 days away from the start of the college football season. Conference media days have helped bring the juice and excitement back. Today’s topic is one of the most polarizing teams in college football. UCF is one team college football fans love to hate. Most of the hate goes back to their claimed 2017 National Championship after going undefeated and being left out of the College Football Playoff. UCF claimed a national championship which is actually recognized by the NCAA due to the Colley Matrix. 99 Things is coming to a close but we have a few major players, games, traditions and programs to still cover.
Gus Malzahn is entering his second season as the head coach for UCF. He led the Knights to a 9-4 record in his first season at the helm. Dillion Gabriel was the original starting quarterback before he suffered a season ending injury. Gabriel has since transferred to Oklahoma. Mikey Keene took his place and found success leading the Knights to a 7-3 record while starting. Keene played in 11 games while starting the final 10 games as a true freshman. He finished the season throwing for 1,730 yards, 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Keene struggled to find consistency at times last season. His season high in passing yards was only 229 yards. He struggled with his accuracy throughout the season as well. Keene completed less than 60% of his passes in five of his 11 games. Keene does not have the quarterback battle completely locked up yet. Ole Miss transfer John Rhys Plumlee will challenge for the starting position. Plumlee was primarily used as a running threat while at Ole Miss. He ran for 1,089 yards in his career while he threw for only 981 yards.
Malzahn has plenty of offensive weapons to utilize this season. One of the primary offensive playmakers is running back Isaiah Bowser. Bowser was efficient when he was on the field. Injuries limited him to only eight games last season. Bowser still finished with 703 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. He is a strong downhill runner who can break tackles. Bowser is not as shifty as some running backs but he is effective and takes care of the football. Johnny Richardson also returns after rushing for 744 yards and averaging 7.0 yards per carry. The duo of Richardson and Bowser could be one of the best combinations in the country.
Ryan O’Keefe is likely to be the top receiver for the Knights again. O’Keefe finished 2021 with 84 receptions for 812 yards and seven touchdowns. He also added 274 yards rushing and an additional touchdown. O’Keefe is a dynamic wide receiver capable of making plays anywhere on the field. Kobe Hudson is a player to watch on the Knights. Hudson transferred from Auburn where he used to be coached by Malzahn. He left Auburn after leading the Tigers in receptions and receiving yards.
The defense for UCF should be one of their strengths. The secondary is led by Davonte Brown and Quadric Bullard. Brown finished the season with 12 pass breakups and one interception. Bullard is the top returning safety for the Knights. He totaled 83 tackles, six passes defended and three fumble recoveries last season. Tre’mon Morris-Brash and Josh Celiscar will be the lead edge rushers to start the season Morris-Brash finished with 9.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks while Celiscar totaled 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. The Knights utilized the transfer portal on defense to bring in safety Kobe Perry, defensive lineman Lee Hunter and linebacker Jason Johnson. Perry and Johnson were FCS All-Americans last season.
UCF has a favorable schedule in 2022 with the chance to make an appearance in the AAC championship. The Knights will be moving to the Big 12 in 2023 so a conference title would provide momentum heading into next season. UCF will host Louisville, South Carolina State and Georgia Tech while visiting Florida Atlantic in the non-conference slate. Most of UCF’s toughest conference games are at home as well. Cincinnati and SMU will travel to face UCF. The Knights do go on the road to play Memphis, ECU, USF and Tulane. The schedule lines up for Malzahn and the Knights to have a special year. Will they make the AAC championship or are they destined for even greater pastures?