In the next installment of our series previewing the Cougar opponents in 2014, we take a look at the University of Central Florida.
When: Thursday, October 9th
Where: Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando
TV/Radio: ESPN, KSLRadio
Paul Greenhalgh: UCF had a fantastic season last year, what are expectations for the team this year?
Shannon Owens: Despite some major losses on offense - namely quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, both members of the Jacksonville Jaguars now - I expect the team to be competitive. They arguably have the best receiving corps in the school's history, a solid defensive line and lots of experience returning.
PG: George O'Leary just signed a new contract with Central Florida, what impact will this have on the Knights going forward?
SO: They'll have continuity under O'Leary. He's worked hard to return the program back to prominence and particularly in making Central Florida on of the top college programs for Orlando area recruits.
PG: Have there been any recent coaching changes? If so, how will the changes impact the team?
SO: Nothing major. Former linebackers coach Tyson Summers was promoted from interim to full-time defensive coordinator recently but he's been working in that capacity since a little before UCF's Fiesta Bowl win. So players know what to expect from him and he knows what to expect from his players.
PG: Who are the key players for this year's team?
SO: Center Joey Grant will be important for his experience and leadership that he can provide to his fellow linemen. And sophomore running back Will Stanback should be a lightning rod for the offense. Linebacker Terrance Plummer is probably the team's best defender to name a few.
PG: Who will be replacing Bortles at QB? What are his strengths?
SO: I'm sure O'Leary and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe would love an answer to that question too. So far, no quarterback has separated himself. It's a competition among sophomore Justin Holman, redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo, freshman Tyler Harris and Boise State transfer and Orlando native Nick Patti.
PG: What players are new to the team and expected to make an immediate impact?
SO: Whichever quarterback wins the role will be new in some ways. I think that will have one of the biggest impacts on the team.
PG: What are UCF's strengths on offense? Defense?
SO: I would say experience on the skill positions give them much experience on the offense and the Knights consistently run a strong offense. The defensive line should be much improved from last year.
PG: What are UCF's weaknesses on offense? Defense?
SO: There have been some changes on the offensive line and it could take a little time for that to gel. Based on spring practice, O'Leary wasn't over the moon about the secondary's performance.
PG: Are there any unique traditions at UCF that Cougar fans who travel to Orlando can anticipate?
SO: I'm still relatively new on the beat, just started in March. And, quite frankly, the football program is pretty young. I'm not aware of any unique, long-standing traditions yet. But I'm sure fans will alert me!
Shannon can be followed on Twitter @shannonowens. and at www.orlandosentinel.com