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 5 (Sept. 30, 6:30 p.m.): vs. Maine Black Bears
Last Year: 6-5 (5-3 Colonial Athletic Association)
Last Meeting: UCF 38, Maine 17 (Nov. 18, 1995)
All-time series: UCF leads 2-0
After what will be UCF’s first road trip of 2017 in week four, the Knights return home in week five to host Maine. The two programs have met twice before, last squaring off in 1995 when the Knights were still “Golden” and playing downtown at the Citrus Bowl. The matchup was a late addition to the 2017 schedule, coming after UCF’s visit to Texas was pushed back to 2023. The Black Bears are coming off a winning season that broke a streak of back-to-back losing seasons.
In 2016, Maine’s offense averaged over 350 yards per game, but averaged a less-impressive 22.3 points per game. The Black Bears will have to replace quarterback Dan Collins (2,375 passing yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016) this fall. Senior Max Staver, redshirt junior Drew Belcher, redshirt freshman Chris Ferguson and true freshman Isaiah Robinson are the four quarterbacks currently on the roster, though none of them attempted a pass last year. Whoever wins the job will benefit from a backfield that features Maine’s 2016 leading rusher, sophomore Joshua Mack (712 yards, six touchdowns). The team also returns 12 of the 16 players who caught at least one pass last year. Along the offensive line, there’s a solid group of seniors to lead the way, including third-team all-conference selection, Jamil Demby.
Defensively, the Black Bears have to replace two first-team all-conference members. Finding replacements for 2016 leading tackler Christophe Mulumba Tshimanga (97 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks in 2016) and fourth-leading tackler Patrick Ricard (50 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks in 2016) won’t be easy. The unit as a whole struggled to get to the quarterback last year, totaling just 18 sacks on the year. Of those 18, Maine loses 9 1/2 heading into 2017. There is some experience and depth in the secondary, but if the pass rush doesn’t improve, the Black Bears may be in for a long season.
Maine struggled heavily on special teams last year, specifically in the kicking game. Two kickers combined to go 1-for-7 on field goals, with the lone successful attempt coming from 29 yards out. The team’s primary punter from 2016 is gone, but sophomore Derek Deoul did register five punts as a freshman.
Maine made solid strides last year, going 5-3 in the conference and 6-5 overall. There are some good pieces in place this year, but the loss of a quarterback and two defensive stars may be too much to overcome this fall.
Final Thoughts: Maine’s odds of upsetting UCF on Sept. 30 were always going to be pretty small, but with the meeting coming right before a crucial stretch in conference play, the team may just be looking to stay healthy more than anything. Of course, the Black Bears would love an upset in what figures to be their biggest non-conference game of the year. But by week five, the Knights should be clicking. A loss here would be disastrous for the program.