Soon enough, UCF Football will kick off its 2018 season. Last year, the Knights finished 13-0, won the AAC, beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl and claimed a National Championship. Now, a new coaching staff led by Josh Heupel will try to guide a talented roster to another big year. Every Saturday until the season starts, we’ll be breaking down a different opponent on UCF’s schedule.
Week 1 (Aug. 30, 7:00 p.m., ESPNU): at UConn Huskies
Last Year: 3-9 (2-6 American)
Last Meeting: UCF 49, UConn 24 (Nov. 11, 2017)
All-time series: UCF leads 3-2
UCF opens its AAC title defense in week one when it travels north to face UConn. The Huskies enter 2018 still in the midst of a rebuild. They brought Randy Edsall back as head coach last year after his first tenure lasted from 1999-2010. His first year back in Storrs was nothing to get overly excited about, with the team going 3-9 for the second straight season. He didn’t have a ton to work with though, so this year could be important for a UConn program that has been to just one bowl game in the last seven years.
Offensively, the Huskies hope to get a boost from their backfield, one that was ineffective last year. The lack of consistency along the offensive line hurt Nate Hopkins (343 yards, seven touchdowns in 2017) and Kevin Mensah (561 yards and four touchdowns). Both running backs return as sophomores in 2018 with hopes that the big guys in front of them can create more space to work with. However, four of the eight lineman that got meaningful playing time last year are gone, so UConn will need some young guys to step in and solidify the position group.
At quarterback, the Huskies will turn to David Pindell (1,226 total yards, seven total touchdowns) after the graduation of three-year starter Bryant Shirreffs. Pindell, who went for 297 total yards and three scores against the Knights last season, has some experience returning at receiver. Keyion Dixon (360 yards, one touchdown), Aaron McClean (472 yards, two touchdowns) and Hergy Mayala (615 yards, seven touchdowns) are back to lead that group. Having some experience at the “skill positions” will help, but the offensive line will certainly be what determines how successful the offense is as a whole in 2018.
As inconsistent as the UConn offense was in 2017, the defense wasn’t much help either. The unit allowed 37.9 points per game a year ago, so there is plenty of room for improvement. The secondary, which was dreadful last year, might be even younger this year. There are three sophomore safeties returning, but the top three cornerbacks from last year are gone. That won’t be easy to replace, especially without much help from up front. The front seven was solid last year but returns very little experience this year. Even the returners that have seen the field in the past are unproven, which gives the Huskies tons of question marks on that side of the ball.
Michael Tarbutt returns as the team’s kicker this season after finishing 12-for-18 on field goals last year, including two-for-two on kicks from 50-plus yards out. At punter, Luke Magliozzi could take over after redshirting last year.
Realistically, this will likely be another down year for UConn. There’s no telling when the Huskies will get back to competing for bowl eligibility, but it’s tough to see them doing so this year. The positive for UConn fans is that Edsall has had success in Storrs before. Can he do it again, or has the rest of the college football world just gotten too far ahead of the Huskies?
Final Thoughts: This should be a pretty easy opener for UCF. Adjusting to a new coaching staff and some new personnel on both sides of the ball might be a little bit of a process for the Knights, but they will get to do so against a UConn team that is still in the very early stages of a massive rebuild. McKenzie Milton should be able to take advantage of some young corners seeing their first collegiate action and the defense could have itself a big night against a still-developing offensive line. UCF should roll in this one.
Win Probability: 95%