The 2017 UCF football season kicks off in just a few weeks. 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 11 (Nov. 11, Time and TV TBA): vs. UConn Huskies
Last Year: 3-9 (1-7 American)
Last Meeting: UCF 24, UConn 16 (Oct. 22, 2016)
All-time series: Series tied 2-2
With UConn’s firing of coach Bob Diaco in December, the “Civil ConFLiCT” may be officially over. UCF never acknowledged the artificial rivalry created by Diaco, and that lack of acknowledgement was clear when the team left the trophy on the bench after last year’s 24-16 victory in Storrs.
However, Randy Edsall, who spent 12 years as the Huskies’ coach from 1999 until 2010, is back this year. He returns with a big job to do, as UConn fell from six wins in 2015 to just three in 2016. This year may not be an easy one, but Edsall has shown in the past that he is capable of getting the program to a competitive level.
The Huskies were dreadful on offense last year, averaging 14.8 points per game. Freshman Donovan Williams eventually took the quarterback position from a banged-up Bryant Shirreffs, who will be a redshirt senior in 2017. Regardless of who was under center, the team couldn’t get anything going. Shirreffs should have his job back this fall, though junior college transfer David Pindell could unseat him if he struggles. Williams moved from quarterback to wide receiver, joining talented junior receivers Hergy Mayala and Tyraiq Beals.
Senior running back Arkeel Newsome (715 yards, five touchdowns in 2017) might be the best player on the offense, but he will need help around him. There’s some experience up front, but whether that experience will help is unclear. It would be hard for the offense not to improve this year, but it may not be a whole lot better.
As a result of a sputtering offense, the Huskies were often hung out to dry on defense. The team allowed an average of 28.1 points per game last year, which won’t win many games. Just like the offense, there is a lot of rebuilding to do. Three out of four starters in the secondary, including NFL second-round pick Obi Melifonwu, are gone.That leaves a lot of question marks as new defensive coordinator Billy Crocker installs his 3-3-5 system that calls for a five-man secondary. With the offseason turnover, finding five reliable guys to fill those spots will be a tall task.
Luckily, UConn does return some strong players in the front six. Senior lineman Luke Carrezola totaled three sacks and 11 tackles-for- loss last year. It will also help to have senior linebacker Vontae Diggs in 2017, as he was the team’s second-leading tackler (84 tackles, eight tackles-for-loss in 2016). Having playmakers up front will make some difference, but they will only be able to do so much if things don’t get figured out in the back.
UConn hopes that the return of its former coach can help the program get on the right path. Getting back to a bowl game this year would be a lot to ask of Edsall, so steady improvement may be the expectation. In the preseason media poll, the Huskies were picked to finish last in the AAC East. For a struggling program, simply avoiding that type of finish would be a plus.
Final Thoughts: UCF overcame a slow start to beat UConn on the road last year. The Knights should be way ahead of the Huskies in all aspects this year. By the time this game rolls around, Scott Frost should have his team rolling. Anything can happen in college football, but this game shouldn’t be very close.