Philadelphia, PA – 6 over Georgia in the USA in points allowed (20.6), yards allowed (345), and didn't allow 100 yards rushing in six games.
UCF suffered tough single-digit losses to NC State and Kansas State during the non-conference portion of its schedule, but the Knights more than made up for it in league play, save for an upset loss at Southern Miss. The Knights steamrolled their way through the league, where only one of their wins was by single digits (40-33 over Houston). UCF found a hidden gem at quarterback, had three players rush for 10 touchdowns or more, and led C-USA in rushing for the third straight year.
"I think expectations levels are higher, and I think the team has to react to that," said O'Leary. "It's a new year, a new season and you're going to be judged on what's done this year, not last year. I think you have to grow with that Liberty Bowl win."
OFFENSE: O'Leary has recruited well on the offensive side of the ball, and an abundance of talent will be on full display again this year. Seven starters return, including the C-USA Freshman of the Year Jeff Godfrey, who had a really productive rookie season in 2010. Godfrey was the most efficient quarterback in the league (.670), threw for 13 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more. Those numbers should rise in 2011, as should Godfrey's command of the offense.
"Your quarterback needs to be a natural leader. If you have to make him a leader you've got problems," said O'Leary. "He's not a big talker, he's not a loud guy. But by his actions, he basically does what he's supposed to do on the field, he's a hard worker off the field. I think kids respect him because they understand he can make things happen."
He is a freakish runner who will only bolster a ground attack that returns productive guys in Ronnie Weaver and Latavius Murray. The junior Murray averaged 5.7 yards per carry last year and was the MVP of both the C-USA title game against SMU, as well as the Liberty Bowl. Four offensive line starters also return with 87 games started combined.
UCF lost three of its top receivers but does have senior A.J. Guyton back (28 receptions, 12.6 yards per catch, three touchdowns) as well as All-American kick returner Quincy McDuffie who is back to fuel a talented receiving corps. McDuffie averaged 11.1 yard per catch last year. UCF also has an honorable mention C-USA pick back in tight end Adam Nissley.
DEFENSE: The defensive end position has depth, starting with Darius Nall, who had 8.5 sacks last year and was a Second Team All-Conference USA pick. Junior Troy Davis is back after registering 5.5 sacks a year ago, so there is a good sense that UCF will be able to generate a pass rush off the edge despite Bruce Miller. Junior college transfer Toby Jackson will be a contributor, as will former Auburn end Cameron Henderson (6-5, 250). The tackle rotation includes a pair of sophomores in Victor Gray and Jose Jose, as well as redshirt freshman Demertrius Anderson, all of whom should be able to help UCF continue to be do a solid job against the run.
The Knights return their third-leading tackler from 2010 in middle linebacker Josh Linam, and they have made moves in the off-season to shore up a unit hit hard by graduation. UCF has a pair of juco transfers in Terran Buck and Ray Cottman, moved running back Jonathan Davis over to the position and has a true freshman in Leilon Willingham who is expected to contribute. Not to mention a unique prospect in former Florida basketball player Ray Shipman, a junior with good size (6-5, 237).
The secondary has its two pillars back in First Team All-Conference USA corner Josh Robinson (15 pass breakups) and free safety Kemal Ishmael, who led the team in tackles and had seven pass breakups last year. Those two will serve as leaders for an otherwise young secondary with redshirt freshman Clayton Geathers and sophomore Jarrett Swaby at strong safety, and junior corner A.J. Bouye, who made two starts in 2010.
SPECIAL TEAMS: McDuffie is one of the nation's top kick returners, as he averaged 32.2 yards per return in 2010 and took two to the house. Robinson had a high average (15.2) on punt returns, so all signs point to the return game being an dynamic part of UCF's attack in 2011.
OUTLOOK: UCF has a manageable non-conference slate, including a home game against Boston College and road trip to BYU in late September. The Knights do have a demanding schedule in league play, however, with huge road games at SMU and East Carolina, and they will face Tulsa and Southern Miss on back to back weeks in November. The winner of the latter will likely get a berth to the C- USA title game.
Godfrey should be even more comfortable in his second season and thus more lethal with his versatility, and having the run game back from a year ago should boost UCF's offense to the top of the league in terms of productivity. Will the Knights blow everyone out like a year ago and win 11 games again? That will be hard to replicate. But if the defense turns in another season like the past three, then O'Leary and company are looking at another quality bowl berth and another opportunity to advance a young program on the rise.