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 8 (Oct. 21, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network): at Navy Midshipmen
Last Year: 9-5 (7-1 American)
Last Meeting: No previous meetings
All-time series: Series tied 0-0
For the first time in school history, UCF will take on Navy. The matchup comes in week eight, with the Knights heading north to Annapolis for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Oct. 21. The Midshipmen have been one of the more consistent teams in the American Athletic Conference since joining in 2015. They followed up their 11-2 2015 season with a 9-5 record last year, falling short in the AAC title game against Temple. Over the last two years, they’ve gone 14-2 in conference play. But with some of the talent that the program lost, it will be tough to keep that consistency going.
Known for its triple option system, Navy has been able to shuffle in new players on offense year after year and remain effective. The vacancies heading into 2017, though, are daunting. Quarterback Will Worth (25 rushing touchdowns, eight passing touchdowns in 2016), three all-AAC linemen, five of the top seven rushers from last year and three of the top four receivers are all gone. That’s a lot of turnover for one offseason. The Midshipmen tend to find a way more often than not to succeed thogu, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the offense thrive under junior quarterback Zach Abey. Abey gained some experience in high-pressure games last year, entering the AAC title game due to a Will Worth injury. He then went on to start the rivalry game against Army and a bowl game against Louisiana Tech.
A year ago, Navy’s defense was pretty stingy against the run, but soft against the passing game. Part of that was due to some youth in the secondary, with the pass rush also failing to help the cause. Six of the top seven linebackers from last year return, so the run defense should still be strong. However, whether or not the youth from last year turns into a better, more experienced group this year will be a big question mark. Coach Ken Niumatalolo has fielded defenses in the past that are sufficient rather than dominant. Whether that will work in combination with the uncertainty that is the 2017 Navy offense remains to be seen.
It’s hard to tell what to expect this year, especially considering there hasn’t been a season of fewer than eight wins in Annapolis since 2011. The Midshipmen always seem to come through in one way or another, so seeing them picked in the preseason poll to finish third out of six in the AAC West isn’t surprising. If everything comes together, Navy can certainly contend in its division for a spot in the conference championship game. But with so many question marks after a major roster turnover, it could just as easily be a down year for the program.
Final Thoughts: Navy will be a big test for a UCF team that still features a lot of youth. Road games are always a challenge regardless, but this one will be even tougher. The Knights will be up to the challenge though, which should make for a very interesting matchup. Coming off a softer stretch that consists of Cincinnati and East Carolina could help UCF, as the Midshipmen will be fresh off matchups with Air Force and Memphis. This one will be close, but UCF may have the edge.