A new season officially opens for UCF Football on Wednesday with the start of fall practice. Expectations are certainly high coming off of a 13-0 season, victory in the Peach Bowl and a national championship.
There is a great deal of talent returning on both sides of the ball, but the Knights are led by a new coach in Josh Heupel and that certainly opens up room for questions about how good the Knights are in 2018. They are also losing valuable contributors like Shaquem Griffin, Trequan Smith, and Mike Hughes.
Fall camp should provide greater insight regarding the direction of the program coming off their most prodigious season. These are some of the top questions we have entering the preseason for UCF.
1. Where does UCF find a pass rush?
Griffin is clearly the biggest departure from last season and while he did so many things, replacing his ability as a pass rusher stands as a priority. Jamyius Pittman and Tony Guerad ranked second and third on the team in sacks and both of them are gone too.
The Knights are retooling in this department as well since they will be playing more 4-3 under new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Titus Davis is one who could be asked to step into Griffin's hybrid role and other names that could help pressure the quarterback include Brendon Hayes, Gabriel Luyanda and Shawn Burgess-Becker.
2. What does the rotation at running back look like?
Heupel has said that UCF will run more in-between the tackles this year and it remains to be seen how that will affect a smaller running back corps. The amount of time Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson spend in the backfield as opposed to split out at wide receiver will tell the story of how the unit plays out.
If either of them primarily becomes a wideout, that could open the door for Bentavious Thompson, Taj McGowan or Greg McCrae. After his standout spring, McCrae, a former walk-on, is a particularly interesting name to follow throughout the fall.
3. Who wins the battle at tight end?
While this position may have seemed to be on the thin side after spring practice, the Knights got great news this summer that Michael Colubiale was granted an extra year of eligibility. He will now battle it out with Wisconsin transfer Jake Hescock for the starting nod.
At 6'7", Hescock is a really interesting prospect, but no one knows what his ceiling is. That may open the door for someone with experience like Colubiale, but both players should see a fair amount of action during the season.
4. Does UCF have an elite corner on the roster?
Just weeks before the 2017 campaign got underway, Hughes came out of nowhere via transfer to become one of the most impactful performers in school history. He was especially needed due to Nevelle Clarke's six-game suspension to start the year.
Now, Clarke will have to prove he can be one of the American's elite corners, but he will be pushed by Brandon Moore and Alabama transfer Aaron Robinson. The odds are in UCF's favor that at least one of these players will step up and follow in a great line of corners at the school.
5. Who replaces last year's leadership intangibles?
Finishing off an undefeated season requires so many things to go right and one of the main components the Knights had in their favor was great leadership. The team was clearly galvanized around Scott Frost in the early going and the example Griffin set is one that cannot be duplicated.
The current Seattle Seahawks linebacker's value was even more important to keep the team together after Frost-to-Nebraska rumors became reality. As he embarks on a Heisman campaign, quarterback McKenzie Milton is going to take on an increased leadership role, but it remains to be seen what kind of chemistry the new coaching staff will have with the roster.