After a 9-4 finish in coach Gus Malzahn’s 2021 debut, UCF is aiming higher this fall. Cincinnati and Houston are considered the frontrunners in the American Athletic Conference for ’22, but the Knights have potential to join that duo at the top if one of the quarterbacks — Mikey Keene or John Rhys Plumlee — is a clear answer below. the center emerges. UCF has no shortage of weapons to support the player who wins the battle under the middle. Also, a defense that limited teams to 24.5 points per game brings back seven starters.
Related: Athlon Sports’ College Football Top 25 for 2022
Preview of UCF’s 2022 offense
Following an injury to incumbent Dillon Gabriel last season, UCF head coach Gus Malzahn turned to real freshman Mikey Keene. He performed admirably, completing 64 percent of his passes for 1,730 yards, 17 TDs and six interceptions guiding the Knights to a 7-3 record in their last 10 games, including a Gasparilla Bowl win against Florida. While Keene has the edge to keep the starting role, he is pushed by John Rhys Plumlee, an Ole Miss transfer who is more of a running threat.
UCF has depth on the run, led by returning senior Isaiah Bowser, who carried the ball 159 times for 703 yards last season. Durability is a concern, although the large and blue back is a game-changer when healthy. He is complemented by Johnny Richardson, who led the team with 733 rushing yards.
The speedy Ryan O’Keefe is a great offensive weapon that can play in a variety of ways. He led the Knights with 84 receptions for 812 yards and seven TDs. The receivers are supported by senior Amari Johnson and Kobe Hudson, an inbound Auburn transfer who led the Tigers last season with 44 catches for 580 yards.
Kemore Gamble, a transfer from Florida, gives UCF a receiving threat at the end. He was UF’s third-largest receiver last season, catching 31 passes for 414 yards.
The line has plenty of experience with returning starters Samuel Jackson, Matthew Lee and Lokahi Paulole. Transfer Ryan Swoboda was a perennial starter at Virginia.
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A Taste of UCF’s Defense for 2022
The unit took a big step in its inaugural season under coordinator Travis Williams, improving its total defenses by 70 places compared to the previous year.
The power is in the secondary. That group includes cornerbacks Davonte Brown (team-high 13 PBUs) and Corey Thornton (32 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, six PBUs) as well as safety Quadric Bullard (83 tackles, four TFLs, six PBUs). One name to watch out for is transfer Koby Perry, an FCS All-American with Austin Peay.
There is edge experience with Tre’mon Morris-Brash (10 TFLs, 5.0 sacks) and Josh Celiscar (7.5 TFLs and 3.0 sacks). The interior is spearheaded by Ricky Barber, who has the ability to be among the best in the conference. One newcomer to keep an eye out for is Lee Hunter, a former four-star recruit and Auburn transfer.
Linebacker is the biggest question. UCF turned to the transfer portal for help and brought in Jason Johnson, who was an FCS All-American at Eastern Illinois.
Related: American Athletic Conference Predictions for 2022
A taste of UCF’s specialists for 2022
Kicker Daniel Obarski finished strong, kicking three field goals in the bowl win against Florida to improve his season’s output to 8-of-14. Alex Ward was one of the finalists for the Patrick Mannelly Award, which is presented annually to the best long snapper in the country.
Malzahn overcame a spate of injuries to put together a solid 9-4 season in his UCF debut. With 14 returning starters and a host of plug-and-play transfer additions, there is strong optimism that the Knights can jump back into the battle for the conference championship.
National ranking: 45
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