SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  UCF Golden Knights

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Mike Kruczek (6th year, 33-24)
2002 record: 7-5
MAC finish: 2nd (East)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 116.3 ypg
(11th in MAC, 94th in nation)
Pass: 319.8 ypg (2nd, 6th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 149.7 ypg (4th, 52nd)
Pass: 204.1 ypg (4th, 45th)
Projected Starters
Offense (4 returning starters in bold)
WR  Tavaris Capers  Jr. 
WR  81  Brandon Marshal  So. 
LT  73  Larry Peoples  Fr. 
LG   51   David Ashkinaz   Sr.  
53  C. Gagne-Marcoux  Fr. 
RG  57  Dan Veenstra  Fr. 
RT   60   Kyle Watkins   Sr.  
TE  84  Darcy Johnson  So. 
QB   17   Ryan Schneider   Sr.  
TB   4   Alex Haynes   Jr.  
FB  32  Dee Brown  Jr. 
Defense (6)
DE  95  Paul Carrington  So. 
DT   5   Marcus Johnson   Sr.  
NT   92   Larry Brown   Sr.  
DE   86  Trenton Jordan  Jr. 
SLB  22  Gerren Bray  Jr. 
MLB   18   Stanford Rhule   Jr.  
WLB  Antoine Poe  Jr. 
CB   20   Omar Laurence   So.  
CB  Rovel Hamilton  Jr. 
SS   24   Atari Bigby   Jr.  
FS   29   Peter Sands   Jr.  
Special Teams
36  Matt Prater  So. 
Kris Kessler  Fr. 
KR  Luther Huggins  Sr. 
PR  Tavaris Capers  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 31  at Virginia Tech 
Sept. 13  Florida Atlantic 
Sept. 20  at Syracuse 
Sept. 27  at Kent State 
Oct. 4  Buffalo 
Oct. 11  at Ohio 
Oct. 18  at Akron 
Oct. 25  Central Michigan 
Nov. 1  at West Virginia 
Nov. 8  at Eastern Michigan 
Nov. 19  Marshall 
Nov. 28  Miami (OH) 
Continuing a trend it has followed almost annually since joining the Division I-A ranks in the mid-1990s, UCF again will field the fastest, most talented team in school history. And fortunately for the Golden Knights, their second season in the Mid-American Conference brings a favorable league schedule that makes them the favorite to dethrone Marshall atop the Eastern Division. UCF welcomes Marshall and fellow East power Miami to Orlando, and both come South in November -- when the Knights usually play their best.

"[The schedule] gives us more of a chance to reach the goals we all have here," said sixth-year UCF head coach Mike Kruczek.

The biggest goal? To reach a bowl game for the first time in school history. The Knights have averaged 6.6 wins per year in the Kruczek era, but they are still waiting for that elusive bowl invitation.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

The Knights should be able to go bowling if fifth-year senior quarterback Ryan Schneider enjoys yet another banner season. Although Schneider must find replacements for 1,000-yard receivers Doug Gabriel and Jimmy Fryzel, he already has 9,027 yards passing and 69 touchdowns and is on pace to break most of the records held by former UCF quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

Kruczek has the deepest stable of running backs the school has seen. Junior Alex Haynes (1,038 yards in 2002) returns and is backed by Dontavius Wilcox, Keith Williams and junior college transfer P.J. Smith. A solid running game is a rarity in Orlando, and it comes as the Knights cope with their youngest receiving corps since 1995. Tavaris Capers is fast but small, sophomore Brandon Marshall is tall and athletic, and redshirt freshman Andre Sumpter is sleek and inexperienced. Michael Gaines, an NFL prospect, and Darcy Johnson figure to see more time than most tight ends in UCF's past.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Defensive coordinator Bill D'Ottavio would like to see his linebackers mesh quickly and produce a stubborn front as soon as possible. Antoine Poe returns from an ankle injury that kept him out all of 2002, and last year's leading tackler, Stanford Rhule, moves over to middle linebacker to replace Chad Mascoe, one of four projected UCF starters ruled academically ineligible.

Historically, UCF's defensive makeup featured smaller, faster players. That changes some this year. UCF's defensive strength will be in the middle, from tackles DeMarcus Johnson, Larry Brown, Roy Williams and Frisner Nelson to safeties Atari Bigby and Peter Sands.

Missing on this defense, at least at the start, are marquee pass rushers and cover corners.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

UCF has a full-time special teams coach (Joe Robinson) for the first time, making this more of an area of emphasis.

Matt Prater made 14-of-21 field goals and 44-of-47 extra-points as a freshman, but the coaches would like to see more consistency. Kevin Beorlegui, Chris Kessler and Scott Sevin will battle in two-a-days to determine who punts.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Possibly the biggest move UCF made from 2002 was an adjustment to its schedule. The Knights successfully moved a trip to West Virginia from September to November, giving them a chance to build some confidence heading into their MAC schedule. (Last year UCF finished 7-5 but started 0-3, including a key early-season loss at Marshall.) The move won't make Virginia Tech and Syracuse any easier to beat, but it should help in the long run.

Quiet mouths also should help the Knights. Last year, MAC foes heard UCF make bold predictions about running the table in its new league; this year they won't hear a peep. The Knights would prefer to stay silent until they celebrate a bowl berth.

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