UCF has seen its brand grow remarkably over the last few years, rocketing up to become one of the most well-known and successful teams in college football. The Knights are beginning to reap the benefits of their exposure, as seen on Tuesday when Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush announced that he would be transferring to UCF for his final year of eligibility.
It would have been unthinkable just a couple years ago that a player would leave one of the most popular teams in the history of the sport to come play at UCF. Naturally, we must assume that Wimbush expects to be in contention for the starting job after being benched by the Fighting Irish this season.
But despite UCF fans’ elation at scoring a big transfer, staring Wimbush over Darriel Mack would be a massive mistake.
The Knights unquestionably needed to add a quarterback this offseason. With McKenzie Milton gone, the depth of the position behind Mack was disturbingly thin. If he got hurt, UCF could have been forced to pick between the unproven and undersized Quadry Jones or true freshman Dillon Gabriel to replace him. Adding Wimbush ensures that UCF will have an experienced and competent quarterback available at all times.
But “experienced and competent” is pretty much the extent of the compliments that Wimbush is deserving of. As Notre Dame’s starter in 2017, he was largely unimpressive compared to the type of quarterbacks UCF fans are used to watching.
That year, he completed just 49 percent of his passes and threw only 16 touchdowns. For comparison, Milton threw 37 touchdowns that same year on a completion percentage of 67 percent. That’s a level of drop off that a fledgling program like UCF simply can’t afford.
Some, however, have argued that Wimbush will perform better in the AAC, playing against a weaker class of opponents week to week. This is a flawed analysis for a couple of reasons. First off, the American may not be on par with the Power Five, but it is certainly tougher than the national media perceive it to be. Wimbush will still be facing tough defenses and dynamic offenses throughout the year.
And more importantly, we’ve seen how he performs against AAC teams and, as shocking as it may seem, there is no significant jump in his level of play. In 2017, he started against a seven-win Temple team and threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns, as well as an interception. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at, but they certainly don’t signal some immense statistical improvement from playing a weaker opponent.
But there is a much more important reason that UCF should not start Wimbush. The Knights probably have enough to talent to have a great year with him at quarterback, but the other option is so much more enticing. Mack has shown flashes of true greatness when he saw the field this season.
Detractors love to point out his unimpressive Fiesta Bowl performance, but conveniently omit that UCF’s line was dominated throughout the game and his receivers dropped several perfect passes. But at the end of the day, Mack led the Knights to a 3-1 record when he played major minutes this year. Those wins include a conference championship, and the one loss was by single digits to a 10-win SEC team.
We already know that UCF is an elite team with Mack at quarterback. Why in the world should the coaching staff mess with that? He has size, speed and consistently throws accurate passes downfield. The Knights should have no trouble riding that skill set to a third consecutive 10-win season and possibly another New Year’s Six bid.
We don’t know what Mack could become, but he has the potential to blossom into one of the best quarterbacks in UCF history. We know what Wimbush is. We have years of stats to look at and see that he just doesn’t add enough value to his team to justify benching a young, high-upside player in favor of him.
With a group of players this talented, the Knights are going to go very far regardless of who’s in at quarterback. But 10-win seasons aren’t always enough in the Group of Five. The difference between Wimbush and Mack could very well be the difference between the Birmingham Bowl and the Cotton Bowl. UCF needs to make the right choice.