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Big 12 Newcomer Preview: UCF

As we continue our breakdowns of the new Big 12 teams, let’s take a look at the self-proclaimed 2017 National Champions, the UCF Golden Knights.

UCF:

Hometown:

Orlando, FL

Stadium: 

FBC Mortgage Stadium, capacity: 44,206

Head Coach:

On February 15th, 2021, Gus Malzahn was named as the ninth head coach in UCF history. In two seasons, he has a 18-9 record.

Overall Record:

289-226-1

Record vs OU (Football): 

0-0. They will play for the first time ever in Norman this fall.

Playoff Appearances: 

0x

Conference Championships: 

6x

2022 Record:

9-5

Last 5 Years:

46-17

2023 Key Players:

Offense: John Rhys (QB), RJ Harvey (RB), Aleec Holler (TE), Lokahi Pauole (OL). 

Defense: Tre’mon Morris-Bash (DL), Ricky Barber (DL), Walter Yates III (LB), Brandon Adams (DB). 

Last 3 Recruiting Classes:

2023: 50th 2022: 52nd 2021:58th 

Final Thoughts:

Out of the four newbies, the Golden Knights come into the Big 12 with the most experienced head coach in Gus Malzahn. Malzahn is not new to big games, during his six year tenure at Auburn he went 3-5 vs Nick Saban, which is tied for most wins against him, and also made the National Championship in 2013. As far as keys to success, the biggest key for UCF’s success will be consistency from quarterback John Rhys, who transferred from Ole Miss. It is safe to say this experienced group will be causing upsets and chaos in the Big 12 in year one. 

Caleb’s Thoughts

Just for a few more looks at UCF from a few different angles.

Post Spring SP+ Ranking – 35th (6th in Big 12)
2023 Preseason KFord Rating – 35th (7th in Big 12)

2022 Offense:
16th ranked Offense in YPG (469.6)
32nd ranked Offense in YPP (6.17)
31st ranked Offense in Scoring (32.9)
9th ranked Offense in Rush YPG (228.4)
100th ranked in turnover margin (-5)

2022 Defense:
69th ranked Defense in YPG allowed (380)
79th ranked Defense in YPP allowed (5.65)
46th ranked Defense in Scoring (23.64)
78th ranked Defense in Rush YPG allowed (157.7)
59th ranked Defense in Pass YPG allowed (222.3)

Gus Malzhan is entering year 3 at UCF as they are coming off back-to-back 9 win seasons in the AAC. UCF will be breaking in a new OC in 2023, as Chip Lindsey left for UNC. Malzahn tabbed Darin Hinshaw as their new play caller. Hinshaw comes over from UAB where in 2022 they ranked 33rd in total offense (438 ypg/6.71 ypp). Hinshaw’s 2022 UAB offense was a rush first group (62% run-to-pass ratio), which fits well with Malzahn’s approach.

UCF has the returning skill personnel to excel in a rush first approach. Former Ole Miss QB/WR John Rhys Plumlee returns in 2023 after leading the team in rushing in ’22 (862/5.4 ypc). UCF also returns their 3rd & 4th leading rushers from their ’22 team in RJ Harvey (796/6.7 ypc) & Johnny Richardson (370/6.9 ypc).

UCF also returns their leading WR from 2022 in Javon Baker. Baker is a 6’1″ 208 lbs SR WR that was a 4 Star recruit (#200 overall composite) out of HS that signed with Alabama as part of the 2020 signing class. Baker averaged 14.4 ypc in ’22 & totaled 796 receiving yards with 5 TD’s. At the other WR spot UCF will likely feature a mirror image of Baker in Auburn transfer & former 4 star recruit (#111 overall composite in the 2020 class) Kobe Hudson. Hudson goes 6’1″ 200 lbs & averaged 16.4 ypc in 2022 with 641 receiving yards & 7 TD’s.

Offensively UCF should fit in very well within the Big 12 both in talent/personnel and on field success.

Defensively Addison Williams & David Gibbs lead UCF as their Co-DC’s. Gibbs is familiar with the Big 12 given his time at Texas Tech working as Kliff Kingsbury’s DC in Lubbock from 2015 through 2018. Williams will be entering year 1 with the Co-DC title after being elevated from is DB coaching role with the departure of Travis Williams to Arkansas.

Defensively, again, I think UCF fits in well with their Big 12 counterparts. They deploy a 3-3-5 scheme, that features a large 6’4″ 320 lbs run stuffing NG in Lee Hunter (68.9 PFF grade in ’22). DT Ricky Barber (73.2 PFF grade in ’22) should be one of the more athletic and disruptive interior DL in the Big 12 in 2023. At LB they return their most productive defender in Tre’Mon Morris-Brash. Morris-Bash plays UCF’s BUCK position, which acts as their primary Edge rushing defender. He lead UCF in both TFL’s (13) & sacks (6) in 2022.

On the backend UCF has a nice mix of size & athleticism, with 3 of their projected Secondary starters measuring 6’2″+.

Of all the new additions to the Big 12 in 2023, UCF is likely best positioned to have success both in 2023 and over the long-term. UCF will enter the 2023 season ranked ahead of all but Baylor, Kansas State & Oklahoma in multiple analytical rankings. And of that trio, only the Oklahoma team they face in Norman exceeds their rankings by more than 3 basis points. Given Plumlee’s play making ability with both his legs & arm UCF could be a dangerous out for their Big 12 competition.

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