UCF Knights

UCF Knights 2023 Preview

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

“When you look at your schedule, there’s no off weeks,” UCF head coach Gus Malzahn said. “You’ve got to bring your A-game every week. That’s really what stands out to me coming in as a new kid on the block.”

Without a doubt, 2023 boasts the toughest schedule in UCF football’s history.

It’s exactly what the Knights want: the chance to play before sold-out crowds on tradition-rich Big 12 campuses.

With the five Big 12 road games and one at Boise State in non-conference play, it’s still a more manageable schedule than any other BIG 12 team.

Let me be clear- it’s not all going to be easy. Those road dates at Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech will keep UCF from cranking out a massive debut season.

Do the Knights have the skill level, depth, and toughness to compete in their new conference?

Head Coach Gus Malzahn has been preparing for UCF’s first season in the Power 5 for two years, with the goal of building a roster that’s able to match up with the Big 12.

Malzahn and his staff dove into the transfer portal, adding 18 new transfers to the 2023 roster. A handful of hot-handed new players come with Power 5 experience and clout.

John Rhys Plumlee (JRP) returns for year two at UCF as one of Malzahn’s most trusted leaders, entrenched as the starting quarterback.

JRP returns  with a wealth of talent around him, from receivers Javon Baker, Kobe Hudson and Trent Whittemore to tight end Alec Holler and running backs RJ Harvey, Demarkcus Bowman, and Johnny Richardson.

There’s a new playcaller at UCF. Malzahn brought in offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw this offseason.

Before Malzahn arrived at UCF, the Knights boasted one of the most explosive offenses in the country. The scoring average dropped from 40+ points per game in 2020 to around 32 per game in 2021 and 2022. Big 12 dogfights will happen this season. UCF must keep up.

The Knights defense is okay at best. They need to be a more disruptive force to win games this year.

The run defense got ripped up late last season, the pass defense had issues during the middle of the season. There are enough good veterans back to be better in 2023. Against real competitors, will UCF only be able to perform on one side of the ball?

For the fans: There will be an upset here and there, but there also isn’t a sure win outside of Kent State and Villanova. Are you worried?

Don’t underestimate anything this team and program can do, but figure on at least two losses between the road trips to Boise State, Oklahoma, and Kansas State, and at best the away games against Cincinnati, Kansas, and Texas Tech are 50/50.

With a manageable schedule, will UCF manage a successful season?

My concern is for quarterback health. Rhys Plumlee doesn’t shy away from contact and is regularly on the move behind an offensive line that may be worse than last year’s. Taking hits piles up, and he’s already missed games in his career. If Rhys Plumlee misses games in 2023, UCF is in serious trouble.

UCF could win 8 or 9 game with a healthy Plumlee but if he’s injured or playing hurt 6 or 7 games is the ceiling.

Come Play In The Sunshine

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

First off, kudos to Gus Malzahn and his staff for raising their recruiting as they embark on their first season in the Big 12.

Earlier this month, Malzahn held the third Bounce House event since his arrival and by far his most successful in terms of getting elite recruits on campus.

Of the 22 official visitors, 12 were blue-chip recruits. UCF had three attend last year at the same event. They have signed a grand total of 18 blue-chippers all-time, according to the 247Sports database.

UCF’s staff not only brought in luxury cars to dress up the facilities, Malzahn also outfitted himself in an astronaut suit to show these guys he’s serious about wanting them to be a part of the program’s future. That’s commitment.

All that said, the hardest part in recruiting for a rising program like UCF is getting the buy-in come December.

Last year, the Knights lost three-star offensive tackle Jamal Meriweather to Georgia at the last minute after a  14 months verbal commitment. Then, three-star tight end Jayvontay Conner dropped them the moment Ole Miss extended an offer.

It’s inevitable if SEC schools and other elite programs go head-to-head with UCF for guys — they’re going to lose a few until they prove they can win at the Power 5 level.

In the meantime, I feel good about a handful of last weekend’s  prospects eventually committing. Three-star edge rusher DJ Allen left raving about his trip to Orlando.

Purdue and Louisville are the biggest competition with Allen.

Meanwhile, I predict the Knights will end up with four-star running back Stacy Gage, who is originally from the Tampa area. He said he wants to commit before the season begins, but it’s a recruitment that will probably come down to the wire.

Three-star defensive back Christian Peterson from Atlanta told Recruiting News Guru that UCF is his top school coming off the trip, but he has an official visit to Cincinnati, Louisville, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech.

The two biggest recruits UCF probably has the best shot of landing are four-star safety Brandon Jacob and four-star offensive lineman Eddy Pierre-Louis, two standouts who live nearby and could be convinced to take the Knights to the next level.

Pierre-Louis, the younger brother of former Gators offensive tackle Richard Gouraige, is close with three-star defensive line commitment Sincere Edwards.

UCF needs to upgrade its offensive line talent. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if Malzahn lands some quality recruits at that spot from the Georgia area, such as four-star Waltclaire Flynn Jr. or three-stars Jordan Floyd and Kahlil House.

The Knights now have seven commits for the 2024 class and are poised to crack the top 40 of 247Sports’ composite team rankings.

All verbal commitments are non-binding until December when the early signing period opens.

I expect UCF to have its best recruiting class in school history with a finish in the top 40.

The Knights Conquest

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The UCF Knights play seven home games during the 2022 football schedule; four of the first five games are inside the Bounce House at FBC Mortgage Stadium.

The most attractive home games from a fan perspective are likely Power 5 opponents Louisville and Georgia Tech, as well as in-conference foes SMU and Cincinnati.

The road games feature an in-state battle with Florida Atlantic, as well as trips to East Carolina and USF.

The road game for the Knights against the Bulls might be the last between UCF and USF for quite some time, as UCF heads off to the Big XII on July 1, 2023.

To win the AAC title in the last year of the AAC’s existence, the Knights will need to be very good during the back end of their schedule. Starting with the road game against East Carolina (Oct. 22), UCF played six consecutive conference games that contained their own pitfalls.

2022 UCF Knights Football Schedule

Sep. 1, South Carolina State: The HBCU National Champions are no match for The Knights. UCF wins in a blowout.

Sep. 9, Louisville: This is Louisville’s first ever trip to Orlando. As we learned first-hand in last season’s match-up, Cunningham’s dual-threat ability has been a problem for UCF historically.

The Bounce House will be Rocking for revenge after last season’s heartbreaking loss. This is a measuring stick game for The Knights. The crowd and humidity will play a big role in this game. UCF 31 Louisville 27

Sep. 17, @ Florida Atlantic: This is UCF’s only true road game in the entire first half of the season. UCF flies by the Owls 48-17

Sep. 24, Georgia Tech: This game in Orlando was initially scheduled for September 16th, 2017, but was canceled due to Hurricane Irma. This is Georgia Tech’s first-ever trip to The Bounce House and they’ll get bounced back to Atlanta. UCF 38- GT 20.

Oct. 1, SMU: The Knights kick off conference play against a team that blew them out last year. Tanner Mordecai has found a home at SMU after sitting on the benching at Oklahoma for three years.

He’s a Walter Camp, Davey O’Brien, and Maxwell Award Watch-lister coming into 2022. With that being said, UCF has never lost to SMU at home. UCF 34 SMU 30

Oct. 13, Temple: The Owls new coaching staff will bring a new energy, but this is a bad football team. UCF smokes another parliament of Owls.

Oct. 22, @East Carolina: The Knights first real road game. The Pirates have 14 returning starters, East Carolina is poised for another winning season and will be a tough out in the American Athletic Conference.

This is a trap game with the Knights looking ahead to the showdown with Cincinnati. ECU 30 UCF 28

Oct. 29, Cincinnati: This will be the big one for American Athletic Conference play.

The Bearcats have lost a ton of talent especially at the skill positions.

Who is going to replace Desmond Ridder, Jerome Ford, Alec Pierce on offense and Sauce Gardner, Coby Bryant and Bryan Cook on defense?

There will be an electric atmosphere at The Bounce House and The Knights will feed off the crowd in a shocker. UCF 27-Cincinnati 24

Nov. 5, @Memphis: The 2022 Tigers are full of veterans on offense, Memphis should be strong in the defensive backfield, and overall, they should be just a wee bit motivated by being left out of the BIG 12 expansion. This should be a true American Athletic Conference shootout. UCF 48 Memphis 38

Nov. 12, @Tulane: The Knights will surf the Green Wave. UCF 37- Tulane 16

Nov. 19, Navy: Navy can play! Their offense can still control the clock, the running game was ninth in America, and their defense even finished 34th in the nation and wasn’t bad.

The Knights sail easily by the Midshipmen all things considered. UCF 31 Navy 10

Nov. 25, @USF: The Cows are still crying about being left out of the BIG 12. This may be the final ‘War on I-4” and the Knights will sacrifice the Bulls. UCF 53-USF 13

Gus Malzahn overcame a rash of injuries to put together a solid 9–4 season in his UCF debut. With 14 returning starters and a host of plug-and-play transfer additions, The Knights will leap back into the AAC championship game.

New Path

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

McKenzie Milton has decided to officially hang up the cleats, announcing his retirement from football on Thursday.

The former UCF star returned from a catastrophic leg injury to play for Florida State in 2021, providing one great story last season.

But now that the 2022 NFL Draft has come and gone, Milton explained on Instagram that “my days of playing football have come to an end.”

Milton had a 27-6 record as a starter for UCF, after starting 4-6 his freshman season, he led the Knights to 23 consecutive wins. He contributed to two American Athletic Conference Championship teams, but that fateful injury in the regular season finale back in 2018 cost him the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

Milton graduated from UCF and transferred to Florida State, where he was able to get on the field for six games with four starts during the 2021 season.

After participating in a pro day at Florida State and UCF this spring and not getting drafted, Milton can celebrate his recovery and still know he gave the NFL his best run.

In his announcement on social media, Milton made reference to the “what if” questions that might include whether his NFL Draft outcome might have been different without the injury. But he says his outlook is focused on his growing family, as he and his wife are expecting a boy this summer.

“A lot of people will wonder what if he never got hurt, what if this what if that? I asked myself those same questions for a while too,” Milton wrote in his announcement on social media. “It wasn’t until November 23, 2021 (three year anniversary of my injury) where I saw my son for the first time on ultrasound and then understood why I went through what I went through. It took three years to put it all in perspective. I get goosebumps thinking about how divine it is that three years to the day I get hurt, is the same day I see my baby boy for the first time.”

While Milton was working out with NFL aspirations, he simultaneously got active in the name, image and likeness business.

Dreamfield was founded in the summer of 2021 by two then-active college quarterbacks, McKenzie Milton and D’Eriq King. At the time, both had transferred to Florida schools after great AAC careers. Both said they wanted to take advantage of the new opportunity that was NIL.

Through their Dreamfield platform, they did things like releasing NFTs or non-fungible tokens, which are blockchain-based assets that allow college athletes to easily monetize their NIL, build their brand, and authentically connect with their fans in new and unique ways.

They also brought in other student-athletes, who wanted to use the platform to help find NIL deals.

Today, they offer numerous resources for the athletes who they’ve partnered with, including help with taxes, compliance, and brand building. Meanwhile, they help brands identify the right athletes for them and track the success of their campaigns.

They also exist to help boosters in the NIL era, as they try to begin crowdfunding and things of that nature.

Dreamfield works to bring student-athletes and brands together for the purposes of NIL. They do so without pairing up directly. Instead, they team up with the athletes themselves.

Among those athletes who they have teamed up with are Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham and Washington quarterback Michael Penix.

Now, with these new brands, they will be able to help those brands partner with more student-athletes in deals moving forward.

We may have seen the last of Milton on the gridiron, but he made his impact in college athletics.

Welcome To The Party

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Gus Malzahn can’t wait for UCF to join the Big 12.

The football coach for the Knights believes the AAC has a lot to offer, and wants to show the college football world its teams can compete on a Power 5 level.

With UCF, Cincinnati, Houston set to join the Big 12 — alongside BYU — in 2023, they will finally get their chance. Malzahn discussed how he believes the new additions will fit in with the rest of the league.

“As of right now, it looks like this will be the last year,” the coach said. “You’re absolutely right that Cincinnati had a great team. You’re talking about Houston, SMU, Memphis — there’re some really good teams in this league. It looks like we’ll be going to the Big 12 in 2023. We’re really looking forward to that. That’s a big step. It’s really helped us in the recruiting world, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Currently, members of the Big 12 receive $37 million per year from the Big 12’s media deals. UCF currently averages about $7 million per year in The American.

While the departure of Texas and Oklahoma are definitely a blow to the remaining Big 12 schools’ budgets, according to CBS’ Dennis Dodd, the addition of the above four schools does help them preserve a considerable portion of their value:

That’s at least a 3x increase over what UCF is currently making from their media deal.

Figures may vary in the final analysis with the contract renewals coming up, but that means UCF could be jumping from a $7-8 million annual payout from media and the CFP to some $25-30 million per year just by virtue of existing in the Big 12.

The Big 12’s media contract with Fox and ESPN comes to an end in 2025.

Fox could also end up renewing with them, with games on Fox and FS1, but keep in mind that the Big Ten is Fox’s priority, so the Big 12 may prefer another network if they don’t get what they want from Fox.

Moreover, Malzahn believes that his team’s impending move to the Big 12 has already started to have a positive impact on recruiting efforts. UCF signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the AAC for 2022, as well as the 47th overall class nationally.

Malzahn said the promise of playing in a Power 5 league has opened doors for players that the Knights previously had little shot at landing.

“There’s no doubt (it means more to recruits),” he said. “The first year, we went after the top players in the country and in the state and we’d hear, ‘Hey, coach. Y’all are non-Power 5.’ Whether we liked it or not, that’s real for recruits. Since the announcement has been made that we’re going to the Big 12, it’s really opened the door to the top players in the country. We really recruited very well last year and I think we have a chance to really have a great class this year.”

As the Knights earn more legitimacy as a member of a power-5 conference, the battle on the recruiting trail between Florida State, Miami, and Florida will only continue to grow. It’ll make the competition in the state even fiercer and it could get really intriguing if the schools begin to play one another more often.

What long has been a ‘big three’ in the state of Florida is on the cusp of expanding to a ‘big four.’

Out Front

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When the UCF Knights took the field for their spring game on Saturday, they had a unique look.

UCF announced that in the spring game, players will be donning custom QR codes on the back of their jerseys in place of the traditional number. The QR code will link back to the player’s profile on the UCF athletics website.

On the UCF website, each player has links to their social media profiles. This innovative approach to the spring game further emphasizes the changing times across college athletics in the NIL era.

This approach is not the first of its kind for UCF in the NIL era. Last spring, UCF geared up for its spring game with different looking uniforms, just like this year. Last spring game, though, Knights players had their Twitter handles on their nameplates.

Things obviously look drastically different right now across college sports than they did a couple years ago. With players now able to profit off of their Name, Image, and Likeness, the game has completely changed. UCF head coach Gus Malzahn has seen those changes come by firsthand.

UCF has tried to embrace the evolving times under Malzahn, and now these types of things are par for the course in college sports.

“Last year, we put Twitter handles on our jerseys. I was like, ‘What the heck am I doing?’” Malzahn said. “We wanted to be the school that embraced it. At the old traditional schools, there’s a lot of dynamics. Yeah, they’re for it but really, they’re not for it. We are a school that can fully embrace it—the young school, social media. It fits with us. It was a little weird early on. Now it’s not. Now it’s part of the job description.”

UCF’s offense hit its stride in the Spring Game after quarterbacks Mikey Keene and John Rhys Plumlee combined to produce nearly 500 passing yards.

Malzahn’s optimism for the quarterbacks showed on the stat sheet with Keene going 21 of 28 for 282 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Plumlee went 11 of 15 for 189 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Opponents totaled 25 sacks for 158 yards against UCF last year. That’s 4 more sacks and 23 extra yards than the year prior.

With starters Cole Schneider and Marcus Tatum off to the pros, Malzahn turned to the NCAA transfer portal for more size. He found that with a 6-foot-10 offensive tackle Ryan Swoboda (Virginia) and a 6-foot-7 tackle Tylan Grable (Jacksonville State).

With the combination of adding two transfers with a full year of development under coach Herb Hand, Malzahn likes where things stand with his offensive line.

That success by the offensive line will lead to running the ball well. During the spring game, sophomore Johnny Richardson gained 108 yards on just 9 carries while Mark-Antony Richards, Anthony Williams and true freshman Jordan McDonald rushed for more than 30 yards each.

This all happened while starting running back Isaiah Bowser, who led the team with 9 rushing touchdowns last year, had the afternoon off.

Last season was the first for Malzahn at UCF. In his first year, he led the Knights to an overall record of 9-4, including a 5-3 mark against AAC opponents. UCF wrapped up the season with a victory over the Florida Gators in the Gasparilla Bowl.

“Ever since the bowl win, it’s been different,” Malzahn said. “I think the combination of the bowl win, the combination of going to the Big 12, you can feel when you’re here that we’re about to do something special. You can feel it, the recruits can feel it. Everybody wants to dream, everybody wants to be a part of something special, and we’re well on our way.”

UCF is definitely a bright future stock to BUY.

Shining Knights

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Despite finishing with a 6-4 record last season, UCF has had the most exciting offseason in program history.

First, Josh Heupel took the Tennessee job, then UCF hired Gus Malzahn.

Malzahn has brought excitement in the transfer portal and high school recruiting to UCF’s fan base.

The question is, can Gus Malzahn take the pieces around him and make UCF an AAC Championship contender?

Watching tape of Malzahn’s offense at Auburn, he did not incorporate the vertical passing game, and when his offense was most successful, he had a running quarterback (Cam Newton and Nick Marshall).

So, I dug a little deeper, I watched tape from Arkansas State, Tulsa and Arkansas (offensive coordinator). At these programs, Malzahn did utilize the vertical passing game. At Tulsa, Malzahn’s offense ranked second in the nation in scoring and first in passing offense.

The reason for the research is Malzahn’s offense at UCF will revolve around Junior quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

Gabriel is one of the most prolific passers in college football; in two seasons he has thrown for 7,223 yards, 61 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while maintaining a quarterback rating of 156.6.

UCF returns all five starters on the offensive line, but they do need to be a bit stronger in pass protection. The passing attack will be the spotlight of the offense again in 2021, but the ground game will also have to be productive if the Knights want the AAC Championship.

UCF has weapons at wide receiver with Jaylon Robinson, Ryan O’Keefe, Nate Craig Myer (Colorado State transfer), Brandon Johnson (Tennessee transfer) and Jordan Johnson (Notre Dame transfer). Speed, Speed and more Speed!

UCF’s running back roster is crowded and unproven. Running backs coach Tim Harris Jr and Malzahn will have to find a solid rotation. Look for one of the following players to emerge as the starter: Mark Anthony Richards, RJ Harvey, Johnny Richardson, or Isaiah Bowser.

UCF’s defense was a big problem last season, allowing almost 500 yards and 33 points per game. The Knights are counting on some transfers to improve on last season’s struggles.

Former Auburn Tiger Big Kat Bryant and Ricky Barber from WKU should be quick improvements for the Knights on a roster-personnel standpoint.

Eriq Gilyard (LB), Derek Gainous (S), Tatum Bethune (LB), Cam Goode (DT) and Corey Thornton (CB) will join the other new transfers to create more big plays. UCF’s defense will tighten up and help the Knights get back to Championship contention.

Competition wise, UCF should receive a few challenging tests throughout the 2021 season, including a few heated and strong rivals in their conference.

Their out of conference schedule isn’t a given, as matchups with Boise State and Louisville, will prove to be important early season tests.

Before I waste any more time, here’s the UCF schedule and my predictions.

Layup wins: Bethune-Cookman, East Carolina, Temple, UConn and South Florida

Tough games but wins: Boise State, Louisville, Navy, Memphis, Tulane and SMU

Marquee Matchup: at Cincinnati, the Bearcats home field advantage proves to act too much for the Knights. Rematch December 4th for the AAC Championship Game.

To end the 2021-22 season, Gus Malzahn and the UCF Knights will finish with an 11-1 record. Heard it here first, folks.


Knighting Up

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Gus Malzahn has a reputation for being one of college football’s top recruiters. Since he arrived in Orlando, Malzahn has been able to capitalize by landing several top transfers to UCF.

Malzahn emphasized recruiting is very important to play with the Power 5 programs. Since his arrival on February 15th, “The Gus Bus” hasn’t slowed down.

Linebacker Bryson Armstrong, an All American from Kennesaw State, is the latest player to commit to Malzahn and UCF. Armstrong was the Big South Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2019.

Wide receiver Jordan Johnson transferred to UCF. Johnson was one of the most talented players in the country in the class of 2020 according to 247Sports Composite Rankings. He ranked as the number 37 overall player and the number 6 receiver in the country. Johnson makes the fourth former Notre Dame product to transfer to UCF since 2017.

Former Western Kentucky redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ricky Barber has transferred to The Knights. Barber was a 2020 Freshman All American by Football Writers Association of America this past season.

Big Kat Bryant announced he was transferring to UCF over Tennessee. During his time at Auburn, Bryant recorded 56 tackles, 10 sacks, seven passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for the Tigers. SEC coaches named Bryant a Second Team All-SEC selection.

The defensive lineman became the third former Tiger to follow Malzahn to Orlando as running back Mark Anthony Richards and receiver Nate Craig Meyers each made the decision to continue their college careers at UCF.

Running back Isaiah Bower (Northwestern) kicker Ryker Casey (App State) and linebacker Hirkley Latu (BYU) round out the new Knights.

The transfer portal can be a double-edged sword. While it can help provide teams with much needed depth and experience, some worry that coaches are signing free agents rather than developing younger talent from high school recruiting.

Unlike former UCF coaches, Malzahn has been offering 4-star and 5-star recruits to UCF. He said it’s about building relationships and UCF is working on changing the narrative with recruits vs transfers.

Malzahn’s sites are set to get these talented players to UCF and be part of building something special. The best way to create franchise energy is to get plugged into the establishment and its actions.

Malzahn will inherit a program that went 6-4 this past season and quarterback Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel, one of the top returning sign callers in the country, should mean the Knights program start Malzahn’s tenure with a high floor.

Non-Conference games against Boise State and Louisville in September will give Coach Malzahn a chance to shine early against big names.

The Gus Bus is creating major synergy, so buckle up Knight fans it is going to be UCFast.


By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

UCF hired Gus Malzahn as its football coach on Monday, just two months after he was fired by Auburn.

Are the Knights getting a talented coach with experience winning in the SEC or a retread that was fired for not winning enough in the SEC West?

Malzahn went 68-35 at Auburn overall with a 39-27 SEC record.

He won nine or more games three different times and never had a losing record at Auburn despite playing in the toughest division in college football. Furthermore, he has never had a losing record at any level.

In recruiting, he finished with four top 10 classes and his lowest rank class was 14th. My big concern is his recruitment of offensive linemen, he tends not to recruit enough each cycle.

Malzahn had a $21 million buyout at Auburn that is not subject to an offset, meaning he will earn that money plus his salary at UCF.

Malzahn will receive a five-year, $11.5 million contract as UCF’s new head coach and add that to his $21 million buyout.

Malzahn replaces Josh Heupel, who took the Tennessee job last month, following former UCF athletic director Danny White to Knoxville. Because of the odd timing in the hiring cycle, UCF had to move quickly to hire Terry Mohajir as Athletic Director from Arkansas State.

During Monday’s press conference, Mohajir stated, “last Sunday prior to accepting the UCF job, I called Gus and asked if he was interested in coaching.” Mahajir then hired Malzahn, whom he worked with briefly in 2012 at Arkansas State.

Malzahn quoted during his press conference, “Definitely I’m going to call plays, I will call plays for the rest of my career. That’s what I love to do, that’s what I’m good at, and that’s what got me here.”

Knight fans say Gus Malzahn is a step or two up from Josh Heupel. Malzahn won the presser and his resume speaks for itself. Malzahn will recruit at an entirely different level, with his already established relationships in Florida.

Malzahn will be inheriting a UCF program that has the sixth best winning percentage in FBS since 2017. The five teams in front of the Knights have all made the College Football playoffs at least twice in the same span (Alabama .927, Clemson .911, Ohio State .900, Oklahoma .849 & Notre Dame .837), while the Knights have never once been selected to the CFP.

Terry Mohajir said, “He has won at every level, he has coached a Heisman Trophy winner and NFL draft picks. There has never been a better time for Coach Malzahn to lead a program than right now.”

Malzahn added, “I’m thrilled to be the head coach at UCF, and I’m truly looking forward to being part of Knight Nation. It’s exciting to be head of a program where the future is extremely bright. I will be hitting the ground running in terms of getting to know the team and everyone else connected with UCF. Our goal is to be ready to win championships.”

After watching the press conference, Gus Malzahn is a phenomenal hire. Hey Knight fans, time to hop on the Gus Bus.

The Knights under Coach Malzahn open the 2021 schedule at home on September 4th against Boise State.

I’ll be there and I already know the Bounce House will be Shaking with excitement.



The Good Job

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Danny White left UCF to be the new Athletic Director at Tennessee and White didn’t go far in his search for a new head coach.

White hired Josh Heupel for the second time, having brought him down to the Sunshine State to coach UCF just a few years ago.

When Heupel left for Tennessee, UCF’s starting quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, made it known that he was not happy. Gabriel turned to social media to express his feelings.

Gabriel posted on his Instagram that he was surprised Heupel didn’t notify anyone on the team prior to his departure. “No goodbye? Not even a phone call? Crazy,” Gabriel posted.

Gabriel wasn’t finished throwing shade at his former coach, “This has been the best two days since I’ve been on campus! Tomorrow is gonna be a great day!”

It should be interesting to see who UCF will hire as their new head coach, but it is very clear who the players want. The players leading candidate among former and active players is Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Lebby was at UCF in 2018 and 2019 and was universally loved by his players.

The list of rumored names and interested parties needs to be narrowed by the preferences and plans of the A.D.

Here is an example: If you see Louisiana Tech’ Eric Wood hired, that might mean someone like Skip Holtz. Until the A.D. is hired, the field is too big to handicap.

That’s why UCF is one of the best coaching opportunities in recent memory and maybe the best in the 2020-21 cycle.

Yes, I know the 2020-21 cycle included Texas. No, I do not think UCF is a better coaching job than Texas, Auburn or Tennessee, but it is a better opportunity to win immediately and is considerably less stressful than any of those other places. A considerable reputation builder before being thrown to the Power 5 dogs.

Unlike many of its American Athletic Conference peers, UCF has an on-campus stadium, The Bounce House. UCF also built Florida’s first full size indoor practice field. In every manner of physical construction, UCF has outfitted itself like a Power 5 program.

UCF paid Heupel and Scott Frost a starting salary of $1.7 million, which at the time was considered to be big money for a non-Power 5 school.

Today, Houston’s Dana Holgorsen makes about $2 million a year and Cincinnati’s Luke Fickel is making $3.4 million annually.

I expect UCF to keep financial pace with their AAC rivals. I guess that UCF will exceed them immediately or structure an incentive-based contract to catch their next Head Coach. Also, expect UCF to lead the salary pool for assistant coaches.

You don’t have to win a national championship at UCF with these expectations from your fans, donors and the media: win a lot of games, win the AAC, and stay yelling from the rooftops of the Playoff debate.

How many Power 5 programs with unrealistic expectations can claim this? None.

It is not a realistic way to sell the job but imagine if you’re discussing UCF as the idea of being a P5 to potential coaches without the unrealistic pressure.

All UCF has to do is choose wisely from the group that wants the AD job, and then the person the Knights choose needs to select correctly from an even larger pool of football coaches.

If recent history is any indicator, even with a late coaching search, UCF will get the right guy.