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Q&A Preview: UCF Knights

Who better to teach us about the Knights before Saturday than SB Nation’s very own UCF blog? Find out how confident the Knights are, who their best players are and their personal Queen song.

NCAA Football: Navy at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

You may be unaware that SB Nation adds new blogs from time to time. That’s probably because Down the Drive is the only site for you and you couldn’t imagine visiting any other place on the internet. While that is a obviously a healthy way to consume online media, it won’t let you find new corners to discover. One of SB Nation’s newest corners is at Black & Gold Banneret, which is all about covering the UCF Knights.

For this week’s matchup with the Knights, we reached out to Chas Short and our new friends over at B&GB to learn everything we can about the Knights.

Down the Drive: UCF went undefeated last year and hasn’t lost yet this season. Is there any team in the AAC that scares you? If not, which team comes closest?

Chas Short: I try not to take the recent success for granted. But I’ve felt since the beginning of the season that – hard as it is to go undefeated – there was no particular game on the schedule that UCF should lose.

I feel the same as we close out the season. UC is a bigger threat than USF, but the Knights ought to beat both. I had been eyeing Houston as the greatest threat from the west – that’s a team that could hang offensively with UCF, and D’Eriq King’s mobility would test a Knights defense that has struggled against quarterbacks who can run. They still scare me, despite their recent losses.

Personally, I think AAC West madness will continue and we’ll get the scenario where SMU (SMU!) winds up winning that division. So if I’m fortunate enough that my Knights end up in the championship game, I also think we avoid Houston.

DTD: Obviously the team hasn’t skipped a beat without Scott Frost. What is one thing Josh Heupel does differently than Frost that has made it his team? What is one thing you miss about Frost?

CS: The answers here are tied together.

Heupel’s RBs run more between the tackles than in Scott Frost’s scheme. It’s been maddening for fans at times, since it’s so often been speedster Adrian Killins Jr. doing so, instead of one of the more physical running backs on the roster. I think we can all appreciate a desire to keep a defense honest and not tip the hand personnel, but it sure would be good to see the bigger backs like Greg McCrae and Taj McGowan running North-South more, and Killins doing so less. On the plus side, McCrae’s usage seems to be trending up.

DTD: Who is the most important player on offense for the Knights? On defense?

CS: There can be no doubt that quarterback McKenzie Milton is the most important player on offense. He makes this offense a thing of beauty. We’ve played a single game this year without him (due to injury) – a 37-10 win at ECU. Redshirt freshman Darriel Mack Jr. started in his place. Mack is a bigger, physical QB and rushed for 120 yards. He also went 12 of 20 for 69 yards passing. It’s clear that we’re a bit impaired on offense without Milton.

I don’t think there’s a single most important player on defense this year, along the lines of Mike Hughes (or arguably Shaquem Griffin) last season. Consistent with your belief that the lines will be an important position battle this game, let me focus on Titus Davis. When we switched from a Frost era 3-4 defense to 4-3 under defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, Davis made the change from linebacker to defensive end. He has exceled.

DTD: With 22-straight wins to their name, when do you think the Knights will lose again?

CS: Such a tricky question given the uncertainties in post-regular season play. Who might an AAC East champ UCF play in a conference championship game or in a Bowl?

Also a tricky question because I’ll sound like an obnoxious homer if I give you my real conjecture, instead of a safe answer like ‘it’s so hard to go undefeated, surely we’ll lose a game next year, even if I can’t point to a particular one.

I’m giving my real answer anyway. No earlier than post-season 2019, but definitely we’ll lose games in 2020. That’s a bold position to take, and I owe you my rationale for it:

I think the Knights win out this year, and tend to agree with the projections of someone like Florida in the Peach Bowl. The 2019 regular season should be manageable. A load of key players, including McKenzie Milton, should return in 2019. UCF will have lost the left side of the offensive line, the starting tightend, a starting safety, the starting nickelback, and middle linebacker Pat Jasinski. I feel good about their likely replacements. It is a near total reboot on the defensive line, however. If I’m wrong in my prediction it’s because – (a) there’s been an unexpected injury of serious magnitude (like Milton) or unexpectedly widespread (like we suffered in 2015) or (b) that rebooted defense line becomes a horrible vulnerability.

DTD: After being left out of the College Football Playoff a year ago, do you think UCF is getting more respect in that regard this season?

CS: Yes. We can argue whether UCF should be getting more than they currently are. Or whether it’s meaningful at all since the committee is laying out a virtually impossible path for a non-AQ school to reach the playoff invitational. But it is at least more than last year.

DTD: ESPN’s College GameDay will be in town this week. If you were going to make a sign for the event, what would it say?

CS: “Danny White is my Hero.” The increased attention on UCF this year is due to Athletic Director Danny White aggressively claiming a share of the 2017 national championship. Of course, that share was legitimized when the Colley Matrix (did UCF fans even remember the Colley Matrix from the BCS days? Now we do!) and is reflected in the NCAA record book. Official in every way.

I’m sure I could come up with a cleverer sign for GameDay, but not one nearly so fitting.

DTD: Who wins this game and why?

CS: UCF. The Bearcats are a very good and respectable team in every way. Especially defensively. UC will get some stops, but not enough. And I believe UCF’s to score will outpace what UC can do.

DTD: BONUS QUESTION: Which Queen song best describes UCF?

CS: “A Kind of Magic”

One dream, one soul, one prize

One goal, one golden glance of what should be

It’s a kind of magic

One shaft of light that shows the way

No mortal man can win this day

It’s a kind of magic

The bell that rings inside your mind

Is challenging the doors of time

It’s a kind of magic

The waiting seems eternity

The day will dawn of sanity


Follow Chas on Twitter at @CFBAsterisk and follow B&GB at @UCF_Banneret.