Central Florida has double-digit win totals in two out of the past three years, no small feat for a school that is shadowed in popularity and recruiting by the Floridas, Florida States and Miamis of the southern college football world. They blew out Ball State in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl last year to cap off a 10-win effort and bring back most of the offensive production that allowed them to score nearly 35 points a game. Now, with the new American Athletic Conference formed, will their recent success continue or does conference realignment cause them to take a step back?
In 2013, UCF will not sit atop of the AAC standings and I put almost 100% stock in that. Louisville returns 16 starters, including a Heisman candidate, back from a team that went 11-2 last year. Pencil them in at #1. But, there's nothing saying that the Knights can't be the next best option in the old Big East.
The Knights return junior quarterback Blake Bortles who threw for over 3,000 yards and had a 25-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. Leading rusher Latavius Murray moves on from Orlando, but Miami transfer and former consensus four-star recruit Storm Johnson will take over the reins as the starter after rushing for 507 yards in backup duties last year. Bortles's top four targets return for him to get the ball out to as long as three new offensive lineman taking the places of graduated seniors can give him the protection needed.
The defense takes a massive hit, returning only five starters while losing four of its top six tacklers and all of its interceptions except for one from last year. Phil Steele placed three defenders (Terrance Plummer, Brandon Alexander and Clayton Geathers) on his third-team, but most accolades are scarce when talking about the unit. The defense will need to steadily improve throughout the year if UCF wants to reach the 10-win plateau once again.
The battle for second billing in The American will be fought out between UCF, Houston and Cincinnati (I think Rutgers loses too much on defense to contend in its final year before moving to the Big Ten). Out of conference, the Knights take on Penn State and South Carolina while during AAC play, they go to Louisville and get Houston at home. Out of the three teams contending for second place, Central Florida certainly has the easiest conference play path in my opinion and have a great chance, especially with Bortles leading the charge, to be right behind Louisville in the conference this year.
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