John Denton's Knights Insider: It Begins Thursday

Aug. 4, 2011

Read John Denton's Knights Insider | Follow us on Twitter | Get social with the Knights on Facebook

By John Denton

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The 2010 season will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in UCF football history what with the team winning 11 games, climbing into the national rankings for the first time and also capturing a conference championship and a Liberty Bowl victory.

But the goal now is to make sure that 2011 is even better. Lofty expectations, indeed, but it's something that the Knights aren't about to shy away from. The way they see it, the defeat of Georgia in the Liberty Bowl wasn't as much a major accomplishment as it was a start and a preview of what's to come in the future for UCF football.

There are even some rumblings now of UCF becoming a ``BCS buster'' of sorts a la Boise State and TCU - schools who climbed into the national rankings and reached prestigious bowls despite hailing from non-automatic-qualifying conferences. The hope now with UCF set to begin training camp on Thursday is that the Knights can win their non-conference games, repeat as Conference USA champs and better all that was accomplished last season.

``Last year showed that we can beat anybody in the country and in the offseason we've prepared ourselves to come with that same intensity and focus every game,'' Nall said. ``Getting up to that BCS level, that's a possibility for us. Every day we talk and think about doing something special like that, but we know we have to keep our focus on Conference USA. We'll take it game by game, but we know we could have that chance to do something big if we take care of our business.''

Of course, there is plenty of work to be put in before the Knights can dream about undefeated seasons, conference championships and crashing BCS bowls. But the Knights hit camp today with more answers than question marks at several positions.

Quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who authored the greatest season in school history to date as a true freshman, returns for what should be a promising sophomore season. In Latavius Murray, Brynn Harvey and Ronnie Weaver, the Knights have three of the top tailbacks in all of C-USA. And the offensive line returns four of five starters - five of six when figuring in massive tight end Adam Nissley - and has 87 career starts among the interior line.

``We've established ourselves as a program and showed everybody that this is what we're about here at UCF,'' Nissley said back in the spring. ``Now we've got to prove that this is something that we're capable of doing every year. We need to be able to continue the success we had and show everybody the program that we are.''

Defensively, the Knights lost all-time sacks leader Bruce Miller, but depth and dynamic talent at defensive end shouldn't be a problem with the return of Nall, Troy Davis and talented newcomers Toby Jackson and Cam Henderson. In the secondary, the Knights feature two of the best in the conference in cornerback Josh Robinson and safety Kemal Ishmael. Questions persist at linebacker where the Knights are inexperienced, but the hope is that elite recruit Leilon Willingham can step in and help right away.

Nall, who will be the full-time starter at end now, thinks there's a chance that the Knights could be even better defensively this season than they were last year when they led C-USA in most major categories.

``I think we can be one of the best in the nation if we get our chemistry together,'' said Nall, who has 13.5 career sacks. ``There's no telling the damage that we can do with the talent that we have coming back and the new guys that we've added.''

Head coach George O'Leary, who has led UCF to two C-USA titles and three East Division crowns, likes the makeup of this team, but he is concerned about the leadership void created by the loss of his largest senior class ever (19 seniors). O'Leary likes how his team approached the offseason drills and he feels his team will hit training camp ready to go. Because the Knights have so much experience and quality depth, the focus will be more on execution and talent evaluation instead of elementary installation.

``The way I see it is we have a solid football team with a chance to win a lot of games, but the chemistry part of it is going to be paramount,'' O'Leary said. ``I've found through the years that if you don't have good leadership from your senior class you're going to have problems all year. They don't have to all play, but they need to be your leaders. From a depth standpoint, I think we have a lot of kids back who made plays. So it's just about the chemistry coming together.''

Fifth-year senior A.J. Guyton is expected to be one of the Knights starters at wide receiver and one of the leaders in the locker room and on the field. He likes the fact that expectations will be greater than ever following a season in which the Knights were ranked, won a conference title and beat Georgia for the biggest win in school history. He knows the Knights will enter games as a known commodity and they will have to be even better this season.

``Since I got here in 2007, each year the expectations have gone up. And now, especially with us winning a bowl game and beating a SEC team, expectations are higher than ever,'' Guyton said. ``We're the hunted now and teams are coming after us. UCF is on the map and we've got to fight them back.''

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.