The 2022 season is nearly upon us, with UCF football fall camp officially getting underway this week. The Knights came in at third in the AAC preseason poll and are hoping to have a strong year in their final season before joining the Big 12.
Here are the top storylines to keep an eye on throughout fall camp.
5. Who emerges at kicker?
Kicking field goals has been a major issue for UCF for the last couple years, but it hit a particularly low point in 2021.
The Knights converted on just 57 percent of their field goal attempts, including going only one-for-seven on attempts of 40 yards or more. Simply put, it’s hard to win a lot of games when you find yourself having to either go for it or punt even when you’ve reached the 25-yard line.
UCF appears to have two options at kicker in 2022. The team can opt to stick with Daniel Obarski, who has handled kicking duties for the last two years and struggled when facing any sort of range.
The other choice would be to go with true freshman Colton Boomer, who is obviously new to the team but has shown off impressive range, both in videos posted to social media and in practice.
It’s a bit of a surprise that this wasn’t settled during spring ball, with much of the fanbase assuming Boomer was primed to take over. It’s unclear exactly what concerns remain there, such as if Boomer possesses the accuracy necessary to make the most of his raw power.
Now, UCF has just a few more weeks to figure out who its kicker will be in 2022.
4. Which relative unknown could break out in camp?
Every year, there seems to be at least one player most fans aren’t focused on who ends up becoming a key factor for UCF during the season.
This time last year, Isaiah Bowser was heading into fall camp as the third string running back, behind RJ Harvey and Bentavious Thompson. Now, he may end up as the Knights’ most important offensive player in 2022.
A few years before him, Greg McCrae went from a walk-on that few fans knew the name of to leading the team in rushing yards with virtually no notice.
Which relative unknown could make a big impact for the team this season?
It may make sense to start with Harvey. It’s easy to forget that the Virginia transfer was likely set to become UCF’s starting running back before suffering a season-ending knee injury during fall camp.
He’s dropped out of the minds of most fans since but has the potential to be another deadly weapon for an already-loaded offense if he is fully healthy by the time the season starts.
On defense, Eastern Illinois transfer Jason Johnson could be a player to watch. FCS transfers typically don’t arrive with as much fanfare as former blue-chip prospects, but the linebacker is coming in at a position of need and was an FCS All-American in back-to-back seasons.
3. How does the Wide Receiver depth chart shake out?
It’s no secret that UCF is entering the 2022 season with a surplus of skill talent. But how exactly that talent shakes out remains to be seen.
The Knights have plenty of weapons at receiver but the actual depth chart is in question, especially following the departure of Jaylon Robinson following spring ball.
Ryan O’Keefe has a strong case to make for WR1. It’s not much of a stretch to say that he was the only consistently reliable offensive weapon at the team’s disposal in 2021, and he wracked up 812 yards and seven touchdowns on 84 catches.
But he will have competition. Kobe Hudson transferred in from Auburn after leading the Tigers in receiving yards last season and had a very impressive spring. With the Knights set to have a much more functioning and complete offense in 2022, it may not be surprising to see O’Keefe’s role diminish a bit since he presumably will no longer be needed to bail out a stalling offense on drive after drive.
Behind the two frontrunners for WR1, there is also Jaylon Griffin. The redshirt sophomore didn’t play much of a role for the Knights last year but had a strong spring and looks to become someone we may see a lot more of this season.
True freshmen Quan Lee and Xavier Townsend are obviously young but come in as highly rated recruits that will have a chance to challenge for immediate playing time.
Alabama transfer Javon Baker didn’t make a big impact for the Crimson Tide but brings plenty of raw talent to the table. Senior Amari Johnson could potentially factor into things as well.
UCF has plenty of options and players who are ready to compete. Fall camp will give the coaching staff the chance to sort out all of that depth.
2. Who will step up at linebacker?
UCF’s defense as a whole has the potential to be elite in 2022, but there are still plenty of question marks when it comes to linebacker. With Bryson Armstrong and Tatum Bethune gone, Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste is the only returning linebacker with meaningful game experience.
So, one of several transfers will have to step up to help fill the void. It could very well be Johnson. The AAC is a big step up in competition from FCS, but Armstrong showed last year that the leap can be made, and Johnson was even more successful at that level.
There are also a couple of intriguing former blue-chip prospects that fans will certainly be paying attention to. Terrence Lewis, who transferred in from Maryland, is a former five-star and unquestionably the highest-rated talent to ever be a part of the Knights’ roster.
He was the No. 21 player in the country coming out of high school and exhibited all the traits suggesting that he was well on his way to dominance at the college level.
But high school was also the last time that he was healthy. He was limited during spring and it’s unclear exactly how ready he will be to contribute, if at all, this season.
The other intriguing transfer is former four-star Branden Jennings, who was with Lewis at Maryland before spending a brief stint this spring with Kansas State.
Jennings may be closer to contributing than Lewis, but there are some question marks around a player who is on his third school in the last year.
1. Who will win the starting quarterback job?
Unquestionably the biggest story of fall camp will be who emerges to take the starting quarterback job. It has come down to Mikey Keene, who did an admirable job filling in for Dillon Gabriel last season, and John Rhys Plumlee, who transferred in from Ole Miss and was dynamic as a freshman before being moved to wide receiver.
The buzz coming out of spring ball was that Keene may have the edge, but Gus Malzahn said during AAC Media Day that the competition was as close as it could be.
Each QB brings something different to the table. Keene had a strong true freshman campaign and could morph into an excellent, though probably not elite, starter if he improves. A strong spring performance suggests that he has.
Plumlee is the much better system fit for the style of offense Malzahn prefers to run and is lightning fast but is not as confident or consistent throwing the ball as Keene. Malzahn did point out that his throwing has improved as he has shaken off the rust of spending the last couple seasons as a receiver.
The decision appears to be close to a coin flip. Malzahn has said that he hopes to have a starter named early in fall camp.