Coach: George O’Leary (2nd season, 0–11) 2004 record: 0-11 MAC finish: 0-8 (7th East) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 107th (97.0 ypg) Passing: 87th (183.0 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 85th (186.5 ypg) Passing: 66th (217.2 ypg)
at South Carolina
at South Florida
at UL Lafayette
at Southern Miss
at East Carolina
Depth Chart: Offense
8 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
8 returning starters in red
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When University of Central Florida athletic director Steve Orsini proudly presented George O'Leary as his new football coach in December 2003, he thought the hardest part would be getting people to look beyond O'Leary's résumé flap with Notre Dame.
Who would have guessed there was something even tougher for the Golden Knights to deal with? In O'Leary's first season in Orlando, UCF posted the only 0-11 season in its 26-year history -- the Knights' worst season since they were 0-10 as a Division II team in '82.
"We think about that all the time," junior linebacker Chris Welsh said. "That's a huge motivator for us. I've put it behind me in the sense that I know we're all working hard to make sure it never happens again. But at the same time, it haunts me."
After three seasons in the Mid-American Conference, the Knights head to Conference USA with the country's longest active losing streak (15).
"I haven't talked much about Conference USA yet," O'Leary said. "I don't want them worried about the conference yet. I want them thinking about getting better. That's enough."
Any improvement depends on living with another young and revamped offensive line. The unit surrendered 44 sacks in '04, and the Knights rushed for more than 100 yards in only three games.
The primary running back will be new. Gone is UCF's career rushing leader, Alex Haynes. In his place are two-year understudy Dontavius Wilcox, junior college recruit Jason Peters and sophomore Curtis Francis.
The role of leader goes from Haynes to senior receiver Brandon Marshall and junior quarterback Steven Moffett. Marshall, who started at safety when UCF's secondary incurred a series of injuries, is back at receiver. He's a nice complement to Mike Walker, the best big-play threat on the team.
Moffett completed 64.2 percent of his passes and had two 300-yard passing games and two other 270-yard games. UCF's offense, however, has much work ahead to become respectable. It was 113th in scoring last year, averaging just 15.9 points per game.
UCF gave up an average of 186.5 yards on the ground in 2004. It also only got to the quarterback 12 times. The combination leaves room for drastic improvement.
Defensive coordinator Lance Thompson moved Welsh from end to outside linebacker and will start the youngest defensive line in the conference. Sophomore tackles Keith Shologan (11 starts in 2004), Emeka Okammor (eight starts) and Leger Douzable (11 games as a backup) will be improved but likely not experienced enough for the travails in C-USA.
Kareem Reid, a transfer from Kentucky, is eligible, and he'll provide more bulk up front. So could a possible move of freshman middle linebacker Clarence Howard to end or tackle.
Linebackers were constantly in flux in '04 and could be again. Veterans Ty Kalandyk and Lemec Bernard left the team, creating room for first-year signees to help returnees James Cook, Ronnell Sandy and Randy Dozier.
Thompson believes this secondary is faster and more skilled, but it'll have to overcome its youth as well as the loss of graduated safety Atari Bigby. Renford Parkes is Bigby's heir apparent, and Sha'reff Rashad shows signs of becoming a star at free safety.
Senior Matt Prater, who has made 33-of-48 field goals in his career, gives the Knights a nice weapon on special teams.
Punter Aaron Horne, a walk-on who transferred from Florida International, has a firm grasp on his position.
The Knights have a stern challenge -- show dramatic improvement while proving they're already worthy of being part of Conference USA. At this point, staying out of the C-USA East cellar ought to be a central goal. A schedule that includes seven road trips, including an opener at South Carolina, won't make it easy.
Moffett must prove he can cut his mistakes (fumbling in the pocket, taking bad sacks). The Knights also must find ways to control the line of scrimmage despite having very little depth.