The James Franklin era will begin with a familiar opponent for the Penn State Nittany Lions: the UCF Knights. The two teams met in Happy Valley last year, and UCF bortles'd Penn State en route to a 34-31 victory. It sucked. It started a weird season for Penn State, where the Nittany Lions lost every other game for the rest of the year. Meanwhile, it propelled UCF to the best season in school history. UGH.
Coming into 2014, both schools will look to start their seasons with a big win over a high profile opponent on a neutral field at Croke Park in Dublin. UCF, knowing it got a big win last year, probably has a ton of confidence, one would assume. "WE'VE BEATEN THEM BEFORE, WE CAN BEAT THEM AGAIN!" Yeah, have that mentality. Think that all you want. BUT GUESS WHAT, UCF...
YOU WILL NOT BEAT PENN STATE IN 2014.
Here's the thing with this year's UCF squad: it doesn't have a quarterback, nor does it have an offensive line. You would think in the four days George O'Leary was the coach at Notre Dame, he'd realize that you need those two things, right? Whatever.
Last year's magical season was led by star quarterback/the guy who can beat up anyone's dad, Blake Bortles. With Bortles lining up under center, the Knights were a dynamic offense, with Bortles completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also apparently can complete a pass to heaven, so that's cool.
Unfortunately for UCF, Bortles now has a new job in the NFL, lining up at quarterback for the Jacksoville Jaguars, which means his new role can be defined as "the guy who gets the ball to Allen Robinson." This has left a gigantic vacancy for the Knights at QB, which will be filled by one of three dudes: sophomore Justin Holman, redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo or true freshman Tyler Harris. There's also the late addition of Boise State transfer Nick Patti, who recently received eligibility this season.
Now, all four guys are talented, but here's the problem: these three have combined to throw 14 passes for the Knights, and by "these three have combined to throw," I mean "Holman has thrown." None of the other QBs have thrown a pass for UCF. It's only Holman, who got mop up duty last year against Florida International, UConn and Big Ten powerhouse Rutgers.
When this situation pops up, that means a QB will rely heavily on his skill players to make the transition sooner, and the offensive line to keep him upright. The good news is UCF's skill position players -- despite losing running back Storm Johnson to graduation -- are awesome. However, this series is all about bad news, and the bad news for UCF is that its offensive line is one step below "in shambles."
The Knights' offensive line lost three All-AAC selections from 2013, meaning that when Penn State plays them, the team will still be breaking in three new guys along its o-line. Is that good? NO. IT IS BAD. IT IS BAD NEWS FOR UCF. While Penn State's defensive line isn't exactly on par with that of the '86 Bears, it is more experienced -- and in all likelihood, more talented -- than the young, inexperienced Knight o-line.
As for the team's defense, it's solid. Has to replace some guys, and this is the first time it's playing since it allowed Baylor to go off for 42 points and 550 yards in the Fiesta Bowl, so there may be an eight month hangover (or, as it's more commonly know, "The Ted Kennedy"), but on the whole, it's a nice group of players.
Unfortunately for UCF, the inexperience on offense will leave an otherwise talented group in a tough spot, and its defense will have a tough time getting back into the swing of things, especially because Penn State is one of the best offenses it will face this year.
I've got some bad news, Central Florida: you're going to lose to Penn State, 35-17.