University of Central Florida coach George O’Leary has been hard on quarterbacks during his tenure, but he had little to quibble with Blake Bortles’ performances last season. Though O’Leary poked at his decision making at times, with 25 touchdowns to only seven interceptions, Bortles had a steady progression and wasn’t afraid to take chances in the passing attack when it was needed. Bortles should get a boost again from a mostly intact veteran corps of receivers. He’s also on both the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Award watch lists, so dealing with expectations appears to be his biggest challenge in his second season as the Knights’ leader on offense.
The Knights lost a 1,000-yard rusher and 15 touchdowns from 2012 with the graduation of Latavius Murray. Now, University of Miami transfer and junior Storm Johnson looks to be the guy to anchor the Knights’ rushing attack. Johnson rushed for 507 yards and four scores a year ago and has shown explosiveness. With very young understudies behind him, his durability could be paramount to UCF’s overall offensive effectiveness.
Filling gaps on offensive line
Neither Bortles nor Johnson will be able to do anything if the Knights don’t firm up their offensive line following the graduation of Jordan Rae and Theo Goins. Senior twin brothers Jordan and Justin McCray will provide leadership at the guard spots, and Joey Grant switched from defensive line to center this spring and is a capable replacement for Rae. The question is whether new projected starters Chris Martin, a redshirt senior, and redshirt junior Torrian Wilson will produce as well.
Nearby rival and new conference-mate USF has enjoyed some national success with big wins over top BCS programs. But minus former Conference USA teams joining them in the American Athletic Conference, the Knights are just 4-49 vs. schools from automatic BCS qualifying conferences. The last of those wins came in 2011 against Boston College. The Knights have several opportunities to grab those marquee wins this season with a trip to Penn State and a home matchup with South Carolina. They also have conference matchups with USF, Louisville and Rutgers.
The Knights have three bye weeks in 2013, the most of O’Leary’s tenure at UCF. Also mixed in is tonight’s matchup against Akron, and three Friday dates, including the renewal of the Knights’ matchup with USF on Nov. 29.