The 2017 UCF football season kicks off in less than one month. 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 7 (Oct. 14, Time and TV TBA): vs. East Carolina Pirates
Last Year: 3-9 (1-7 American)
Last Meeting: UCF 47, East Carolina 29 (Oct. 1, 2016)
All-time series: ECU leads 10-5
UCF’s 2016 homecoming game against Temple ended in heartbreak, with the Owls scoring the game-winning touchdown with one second left on the clock. The Knights are hoping for a better result for their 2017 homecoming, as they host the East Carolina Pirates on Oct. 14.
ECU’s defense was a disaster last year, resulting in a nine-loss debut year for coach Scottie Montgomery. With a full offseason and the American’s No. 6 recruiting class, the Pirates are looking for a bounce back season this fall.
The offense wasn’t necessarily the problem for ECU last year, as it averaged 27 points per game. Junior Gardner Minshew (1,347 passing yards, eight touchdowns in 2016) will compete with graduate transfer Thomas Sirk (previously at Duke) for the starting quarterback job. Sirk is joining ECU after missing all of last year with a torn Achilles tendon, the third of his college career.
The receiving corps is without the record-breaking Zay Jones, who was drafted in the second round of April’s NFL draft. Last year’s leading rusher, James Summers (869 yards, seven touchdowns) is also gone. There is plenty of talent left to step in, but without Jones and Summers, there are certainly some question marks. Four of the seven starters from last year’s offensive line are back this year, giving the Pirates some much-needed stability up front.
East Carolina has a whole lot to figure out on defense heading into this season. The unit gave up an average of 36.1 points per game last year and allowed 30 or more points nine times. It also allowed 50.8 points per game during a four-game losing streak to close the season. It looks like this year will bring more new faces on defense after so much shuffling throughout last year. Four junior college transfers signed on with the Pirates, as did cornerback Tim Irvin, who spent a year with Auburn. ECU has to hope its pass rush improves this year, as last year saw only eight sacks and 14 quarterback hurries from the group.
On special teams, the Pirates are replacing their punter and placekicker. Last year’s punting game was not too strong, while kicker Davis Plowman went 17-for-23 on field goal attempts. Finding replacements at both positions is something that will be figured out by the time camp ends, but whether or not the fresh faces are upgrades will be decided as the season unfolds.
The Pirates were picked to finish fifth out of six in the AAC East in the conference’s preseason media poll. That selection is likely a fitting one with so many moving pieces on both sides of the ball this year. The offense should still be serviceable, but how the defense comes together will determine the season’s trajectory.
Final Thoughts: ECU could have the potential to shock the rest of the conference and shoot up the standings this fall much like UCF did last year. But that’s far from a given. By mid-October, UCF should have its identity together. And with a presumably lesser Pirates team coming in for homecoming, the Knights should be able to take care of business in grand fashion.