UCF Team Report
UCF joined the Big East hoping it would yield opportunities for bigger things for its college football program. The Golden Knights’ new home isn’t quite as attractive as it used to be—not since Boise State and San Diego State decided not to join, and Louisville and Rutgers left for other conferences.
Still, UCF’s new home bore fruit on national signing day. The Golden Knights kept intact their entire 19-man recruiting class, a group that includes 11 players rated as three-star prospects by Rivals.
Need proof? Every one of UCF’s commitments held firm and sent in their national letters of intent, as expected. Coach George O’Leary told reporters in Knoxville that other schools were still chasing RB signee Micah Reed up until five minutes before he sent his letter of intent. He wasn’t the only one getting pursued until the last minute. Multiple players who signed with UCF fended off late interest from SEC and ACC programs—the first time during O’Leary’s tenure that multiple signees received late interest from programs of that caliber.
UCF also did a good job attacking its areas of need. The Golden Knights needed an infusion of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and also are trying to find some options at quarterback should incumbent starter Blake Bortles suffer some sort of mishap. The results indicate a success. UCF signed two new quarterbacks who should compete with Tyler Gabbert for reps behind Bortles.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights inked eight players who man either the defensive line or linebacking corps. UCF’s front seven was decimated by graduation, perhaps the hardest hit area on a team that lost 20 seniors from a group that won 10 games and played for the Conference USA championship.
“The three key elements that we looked at were range, speed and versatility. They can play a couple of positions, a number of the athletes that we signed,” O’Leary said in an official release sent out by the school.
Top Of The Class
DE Seyvon Lowry (First Coast High/Jacksonville, Fla.)—Lowry was rated as a four-star prospect by ESPN, which also ranked Lowry as the 35th best defensive end in the class. UCF wooed Lowry despite offers from Kentucky, North Carolina and Ole Miss, among others. He’ll probably get his first look at the next level as an outside linebacker.
OL Jordan Prestwood (Notre Dame/Plant City, Fla.)—Prestwood could be the immediate replacement for Phil Smith, UCF’s graduated starter at right offensive tackle. The trick might be keeping Prestwood in one place. He enrolled early at Florida State in January of 2011, then transferred to Notre Dame before leaving the Fighting Irish before the 2012 season began. Prestwood was a consensus four-star prospect coming out of high school.
HB Mario Mathis (Thomasville High/Thomasville, Ga.)—The 6-2, 230-pound Mathis was the first player who sent in his letter of intent on the morning of national signing day. Rivals and ESPN thought highly of Mathis’ prowess on defense, ranking him 47th and 66th, respectively, among outside linebackers. UCFsports.com is reporting that Mathis may have a better shot at H-back, UCF’s hybrid of the tight end and fullback positions.
• UCF has two new members of its coaching staff. Lorenzo Constantini came aboard as defensive line coach, a role he previously served for the Golden Knights from 2000-03. UCF also hired Mike Buscemi as the new special-teams coordinator and tight ends coach. Buscemi is a former UCF player who served as long-snapper between 2004-07.
• The Golden Knights went into last season expecting to be banned from bowl play, then filed an appeal that allowed UCF to play in the Conference USA championship game and earn a spot in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. At the time, it appeared understood that by filing the appeal, UCF would sacrifice the chance at postseason eligibility in its first year as part of the Big East. However, the Knights filed another appeal with the NCAA on Jan. 24. Originally, UCF was banned from bowl play as part of a set of sanctions handed down by the NCAA for violations committed by the football and men’s basketball teams.
Practice priorities: UCF lost 20 seniors from last season’s team, but brings back 35 total players who logged at least one start during the Golden Knights’ 10-win campaign in 2012. Everyone will focus on the absence of star RB Latavius Murray, but the losses are more profound on defense, where the Knights must replace three-year leading tackler Kemal Ishmael, ball-hawking CB A.J. Bouye and LBs Jonathan Davis and Ray Shipman, who combined for nearly 200 tackles as a tandem last season.
Quote To Note: “The way I look at it is the last SEC team we played we beat, and the last ACC team we played we beat. I think people forget about that.”—UCF coach George O’Leary
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Key Losses: RB Latavius Murray, DB Kemal Ishmael, DB A.J. Bouye, WR/KR Quincy McDuffie, LB Jonathan Shipman, LB Ray Shipman
Players To Watch In 2013:
QB Blake Bortles—Bortles clearly established himself as the best signal caller on the team last season. He’ll be expected to do even more in 2013, especially as the UCF ground game enters a period of adjustment while looking for someone to replace RB Latavius Murray’s impressive workload.
LB Terrance Plummer—A rising junior, Plummer ranked third on the team in tackles and is the unquestioned leader of the linebacking corps headed into the new season. Plummer posted four double-digit tackle performances last season, his first with significant playing time.
DB Brandon Alexander—Alexander will become the new go-to guy at the back end of the defense. Alexander started 12 of UCF’s 14 games in 2012, led the team with nine pass breakups and recovered three fumbles, tying him for the most in Conference USA.
• Four outgoing UCF players got the chance to showcase their wares in postseason all-star games. DB Kemal Ishmael and WR/KR Quincy McDuffie represented UCF in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl held Jan. 19. CB A.J. Bouye and RB Latavius Murray participated in the Texas vs. The Nation Game that took place on Groundhog Day.
• Three of UCF’s new recruits, QBs Pete DiNovo and Justin Holman and DB D.J. Killings, enrolled in January. They’ll all be eligible to go through spring practice.
• UCF’s recruiting class included twin brothers Shaquem and Shaquill Griffin out of Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, Fla. That gives the Knights two sets of identical twins on the 2013 roster, with the Griffins joining OLs Justin and Jordan McCray.