UCF - Florida A&M: Five Things to Watch

Watch on CBSSN Listen on 96.9 The Game Live Stats Buy Tickets

For the first time in history Florida A&M pays a visit to Spectrum Stadium. The only other meeting between these programs came in Tallahassee in 1987 when the Rattlers ended a five-game Knight win streak. Florida A&M comes to Orlando Thursday night to face UCF—and future schedules list a return visit to Spectrum Stadium by the Rattlers for 2020.
The Knights will be seeking a fourth consecutive season-opening victory, with all of those assignments coming at home.
Here are some areas to watch when the Rattlers square off against the Knights: 

  1. Can the Knights keep up this pace? The victories have arrived at a dizzying rate over the last two seasons. UCF's combined 25-1 record in 2017-18 compares impressively with that of programs like Clemson and Alabama, both 27-2 over that span. The 25-game win streak by the Knights qualified as the fourth-longest victory streak since 2000 (after 34 by Miami in 2000-03, 29 by Florida State in 2012-14 and 26 by Alabama in 2015-16). And Josh Heupel became only the third coach in NCAA FBS history to produce an unbeaten regular season in his first year as a head coach. 
  2. What's next at quarterback? UCF coach Josh Heupel became so used to being asked about the quarterback job in the offseason that he often kidded right off the top, "No, today's not the day we are announcing who the quarterback is." History shows stellar play at quarterback has almost been a given for the Knights of late (McKenzie Milton, Blake Bortles and even back to Daunte Culpepper). But Milton's severe late-season injury from 2018 has him on the sidelines, as well as his replacement, Darriel Mack Jr., thanks to a summer ankle injury. So, fall camp featured grad transfer Brandon Wimbush (he came to Orlando from Notre Dame with 15 previous starts with the Irish), early enrolled freshman Dillon Gabriel (from the same Hawaii high school as Milton) and local redshirt freshman Quadry Jones (he played in one game in 2018). Heupel ended the drama—and provided clarity exactly a week in advance of the opener--by naming Wimbush as the starter and saying Gabriel also will see time versus Florida A&M. Now the players will take it from here.
  3. The Knights expect to score points. No matter the quarterback, look for UCF to put points on the board. The Knights have scored at last 30 points in 26 consecutive games, a national record since the Associated Press poll began in 1936. Last year UCF averaged 43.2 points (sixth nationally) per game. The year before it was a 48.2-point average that led the country. Whether it's running back Greg McCrae or wide receiver Gabriel Davis (or others) the Knights are confident in their skill-position depth, with several individuals slated to play multi-purpose roles.
  4. What about the UCF defense? Heupel and his staff have been vocal about their intent to shore up a run defense that last fall allowed more than 222 yards per game (which the Knights offset by setting a school record at 265.2 rushing yards per contest). UCF must replace four of its top six tacklers from a year ago (returning safety Richie Grant and linebacker Nate Evans ranked one-two). The Florida A&M opener will be the first chance for Knights' fans (and Heupel and his staff) to check out the reinforcements in live action.
  5. Rattlers bring history. While UCF's recent success has been well-documented, visiting Florida A&M brings its own set of historical credentials. The Rattlers can boast of 12 black college football national championships (all won from 1938 through 2010), 29 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) titles, eight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) titles and one national title (1978 NCAA I-AA) in the history of their football program.  

And one more for good measure . . . . 

  1. New faces for the kicking crew. UCF's debut Thursday night also will feature the initial time around for first-year players in both the placekicking and punting roles. The Knights are replacing punter Mac Loudermilk (43.4 yards per kick in 2018 and a second-team all-American Athletic Conference pick in 2017; 41.9 career average on 108 punts) and four-year starting placekicker Matthew Wright (12 of 14 on field goals in 2018, good for second-team all-AAC recognition; 55 career field goals, a UCF record). Among candidates are senior kicker Dylan Barnas (he kicked off once in 2017) and redshirt freshman punter Andrew Osteen (he sat out 2018).