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 1 (Aug. 31, 6 p.m.): vs. FIU Panthers
Last Year: 4-8 (4-4 Conference USA)
Last Meeting: UCF 53, FIU 14 (Sept. 24, 2016)
All-time series: UCF leads 3-2
UCF will kick off the 2017 season on Sept. 2, hosting FIU. The two programs are meeting for the third straight season, with the series coming back to Orlando for the first time since the 2015 season opener. Things are a little bit different for the Panthers this time around, with legendary Miami coach Butch Davis returning to the area this fall to coach FIU. Davis, who most recently coached North Carolina in 2010, will look to find some sustainable success for a program that has struggled to find it. The biggest plus for Davis? A roster with a whole lot of experience.
Senior quarterback Alex McGough, who missed the final three games of 2016, returns this fall. In nine games, he completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 1,891 yards and 13 touchdowns to 11 interceptions. McGough’s top target, senior Thomas Owens (652 yards, seven touchdowns), is also back for one more year. The Panthers will also have some significant experience in the backfield. Juniors Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones combined for 1,492 yards and 10 scores last year. Factor in an offensive line that gained valuable experience in a down year and FIU should have a stronger offense in Davis’ debut season.
For as much experience as the offense has, the defense may have even more. The unit returns a majority of its core, although whether that’s good or bad depends on perspective. The Panthers played some bad defense in 2016, giving up an average of 34.8 points per game. They surrendered 53 points to the Knights in week four while allowing 501 total yards. Regardless, experience helps and FIU has plenty of it. If senior linebackers Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint continue to lead the way and some of the team’s three-star recruits can contribute early on, there may be some cause for optimism in Miami this fall.
While chasing a conference title may not be a realistic goal for the Panthers this season, they have a good chance of surpassing last year’s win total of four. Experience is key, and if the team’s veterans stay healthy, Davis could see some progress and have some solid ground to build on for the future.
Final thoughts: FIU is one of the weaker opponents UCF will see this year. However, the Panthers have shown that they can put up a fight against the Knights. Coach Scott Frost and his team can’t afford to take them lightly, but this will be a matchup that they should absolutely win.