Football is back! Outstanding. Maybe not so outstanding? This volcano threatening both teams' travel plans. As of Monday night Bárðarbunga is still on eruption watch, though the aviation alert was downgraded from red to orange. Safe travels if you're heading to Ireland.
Oh right, the game. As you may recall, Central Florida erupted for 34 points in Beaver Stadium last September en route to a 12-1 season that saw them finish 10th in the polls. Blake Bortles (mmbortles) and Storm Johnson led an explosive offense that peaked in a 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. Even with the loss of that duo to the NFL, George O'Leary's team is still picked to finish in the upper echelon of the AAC, so James Franklin will hope his coaching counterpart will be a little more magmanimous than last season. Volcano pun.
Last Season - UCF: 12-1 (8-0), Volcano: Dormant
The Knights were so very close to an undefeated season in 2013. If South Carolina running back Mike Davis didn't have the game of his life in the Gamecocks' 28-25 win in Orlando in week three, UCF could very well have had a claim to play in the national title game. Alas, Knights fans won't be complaining about a magical season which ended in all the TostitosTM.
The volcano is not sentient, and therefore was unable to participate in football activities, much less understand the concept of "seasons."
Curiously, O'Leary wasn't able to parlay his team's on-field success into a particularly outstanding recruiting class. UCF did sign one four-star player, in-state safety Kyle Gibson, but 12-1 BCS bowl-winners are usually able to do better than 60th in the country. Then again, last season's team was built on juniors and seniors that emerged from similarly-ranked classes. Otherwise, it was a pleasantly quiet offseason for the Knights.
Bárðarbunga was filling with magma this summer, and had no time to recruit.
Redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo has been given the responsibility of replacing Bortles (mmbortles) under center. O'Leary named the former three-star recruit his starter three weeks ago, giving him ample time to prepare for the Nittany Lion defense. DiNovo has received glowing reviews from his coaches, with O'Leary going so far as to say he's ahead of where Bortles was during his freshman season (mmbortles). Lining up behind DiNovo is Will Stanback, who averaged 4.2 YPC on 105 attempts spelling Storm Johnson in 2013.
Penn State may not face another group of wideouts as talented as UCF's again this year. Three returning receivers totaled over 700 yards, led by senior Rannell Hall who caught 57 balls for 886 yards in 2013. Add in UAB transfer Jackie Williams to that corps, who made 52 grabs for the Blazers in 2012, and young DiNovo will have plenty to work with.
Much like their counterparts in Blue & White, UCF's offensive line has to replace quite a few starts - 88 to be exact, all from former all-conference selections. Left tackle Torian Wilson and center Joey Grant are the lone returnees, who will be tasked with leading a group of underclassmen from the start.
Lava can travel up to 30 kilometers per hour. Surprisingly, lava was not offered by any SEC programs out of high school.
Penn State may have the best underclassman quarterback in the country, but the air raid might not be the best strategy at Croke Park. All four starters from last year's secondary return, and the mothership's Bill Connelly thinks the Knights' pass defense becomes an "elite unit" if the front seven can generate adequate pass rush. Which, yanno, is probably gonna happen against PSU's offensive line.
Lava is also very hot and will burn you, do not try to run the ball through lava.
Teams that go 12-1 usually have special teams down pretty pat, and UCF certainly did last season. Place kicker Shawn Moffitt missed just two field goals in 2013, and punter Caleb Houston paced opponents inside their own 20 on 12 occasions. The only thing missing was a touchdown in the return game, though I'm certainly not going to sit here and pretend like UCF doesn't have athletes capable of housing one at any time.
UCF has the second largest student body among not-for-profit American universities, as of December 2013.
Volcanoes are very hot.