UCF Football to face Maryland in difficult road opener – preview

Courtesy Maryland Athletics YouTube Channel

The 2017 UCF football season kicks off in just a few months. Coach Scott Frost came to Orlando last season and helped the Knights to a six-win improvement, which means expectations will be even higher this year. In this opponent preview series, we’ll be breaking down each team that UCF will see this fall.

Week 4 (Sept. 23, Time TBA): at Maryland Terrapins

Last Year: 6-7 (3-6 Big Ten)

Last Meeting: Maryland 30, UCF 24—2 OT (Sept. 17, 2016)

All-time series: Maryland leads 1-0

In week four of the 2017 season, UCF hits the road for the first time, heading north to take on Maryland. In September of 2016, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton made his collegiate debut against Maryland at Bright House Networks Stadium. He almost led the Knights to a win, but a fumble in the second overtime (his sixth of the game, third lost) ended those hopes. Just about a year later, UCF will look to avenge that loss.

Maryland coach DJ Durkin is heading into his second year at the helm after getting the program to a bowl game in year one. Offensively, Maryland has some replacements to make in what was already an inconsistent passing game. Gone are quarterback Perry Hills and a few of the team’s top producing receivers from 2016. The answer under center is unclear, with sophomores Max Bortenschlager and Tyrrell Pigrome competing for the job against North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, who could be the frontrunner.

Despite the uncertainty in the passing game, the Terps will benefit from an experienced offensive line made up of four returnees. The guys up front will be key, as will the returning running back duo of junior Ty Johnson and sophomore Lorenzo Harrison III. The speedy duo combined for 1,637 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

The Terps have their balance of strengths and weaknesses on defense as well. Their run defense was very poor in 2016, so that area will be worth monitoring early on in the season for UCF, which features a run-heavy offense. One big plus for the defense comes back in the form of senior Jesse Aniebonam, who racked up nine sacks a year ago. There are some solid pieces in the secondary, which should bode well for the team’s pass defense. Defense is DJ Durkin’s strength, so it would be surprising if the unit doesn’t improve quite a bit this coming fall.

Sophomore punter Wade Lees didn’t have the biggest leg last year, averaging just 39.8 yards per punt. He was still efficient in terms of hangtime, which balanced out some of the other shortcomings he displayed. Senior kicker Adam Greene was sub-par in his junior season, making just 64.3 percent of his field goals (9-for-14). With as many holes as the Terps have on offense and defense, they can’t afford another shaky special teams year.

Overall, Maryland is a tricky team. Like UCF, the team is going into year two under a new regime. There is a lot of potential for the program, but how far it can go in 2017 may be limited in the increasingly-competitive Big Ten.

Final Thoughts: Maryland is in a unique situation this year, facing a really tough schedule with a roster that is still developing. As UCF’s first road trip of the year, the matchup could be a tough one. However, this is a big opportunity for the Knights to get a redeeming win after last year’s crushing home loss to the Terps.

Prediction: Win

About Bailey Adams 204 Articles
Bailey Adams is a senior writer covering UCF Football and Baseball for Knight Sports Now. You can follow him on Twitter at @BaileyJAdams22.