Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 1 Central Florida.
You beautiful bastards.
For the second-consecutive year, you have voted Central Florida as the top team in the nation. The Knights edged out Maryland by a mere 12.45 million votes to claim the top spot—the Terrapins collected 569,345 total votes. Again, a smart, conniving reader played our polls, and he outmaneuvered whoever tried to stuff the ballot box for the Terps. You think nearly 600,000 people give a shit about Maryland?
If the final results are anything like last year’s, I’ll consider the Deadspin 25 a success. Despite playing in the AAC and seemingly having the pieces in place to string together four or five wins, the Knights lost every damn game in 2015, finishing 0-12. George O’Leary, who’d been (a dick) there for 12 years, just up and retired after the team made it to 0-8. His statement to ESPN made clear he wasn’t fully committed to the 2015 from the beginning (don’t fret, UCF fans, the fucker’s still getting a statue):
“After the 2013 championship season and Fiesta Bowl win I expressed my intention to retire at that time,” O’Leary said. “After significant discussion with the UCF administration, I reconsidered and agreed to coach two additional seasons, 2014 and 2015. The administration has always been aware of my plan to retire after this season. In an effort to allow UCF to accelerate its search for my successor and clarify the facts regarding my future plans, I am retiring effective immediately,”
So, out with O’Leary, in with Scott Frost. The 41-year old climbed the ladder at Oregon under Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, jumping from receivers coach to offensive coordinator in 2013. He’ll hopefully be able to breathe some life into an offense that averaged 13.9 points a season ago, making them the third-worst scoring offense in the nation. Since being hired in December, Frost and his coaching staff have been bringing the Central Florida offense up to speed on the same schemes he ran at Oregon. The idea is to take a quarterback with a wild canon of an arm and a previously underused running ability and have him run the spread.
Justin Holman, last year’s Guy To Know, had a dreadful individual showing in 2015; the team was winless, so he was far from the only one. As a junior, he completed just 50.8 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdowns to 14 interceptions. The team’s average of 187.3 passing yards per game ranked 102nd in the nation, while their 425 passing attempts ranked 52nd. The worst part was they had no better options to turn to amid Holman’s struggles, as backup Bo Schneider sucked just as much, throwing seven picks and just two scores.
While Holman’s 23-touchdown sophomore campaign was impressive, his big-play ability was dwarfed by his inefficiency his junior year, a deficiency that still plagues him in 2016. Through three games, he’s completing just 43.6 percent of his passes. His first two performances were so disheartening, Frost thought it better to start freshman McKenzie Milton in the Knights’s double-overtime loss to Maryland. And you know what? Compared to Holman, Milton ain’t bad! I mean, the kid has happy feet, fumbled six (!) times, and threw one interception, but overall, he’s—look, he’s not Holman. UCF fans, this is your new guy, for now.
The Knights as a team failed to crack 1,000 yards rushing last year—yes, the AAC had five of its 12 team rush defenses ranked within the top-40 in yards allowed, but Central Florida was the only team in the entire nation to not top 1,000 yards on the ground. Even fucking Wake Forest stumbled to 1,262 yards!
I don’t imagine the UCF rushing attack is a quick fix, which makes Frost’s Oregon system a fine one to implement. Freshmen Jawon Hamilton and Adrian Killins and senior Dontravious Wilson are currently propping up the running game, and through three games, the Knights have already run for 667 yards, more than two thirds of last season’s total. If the trio can keep up this pace—they’re averaging 222.3 yards despite having faced the defenses of Michigan and Maryland—they’ll take a lot of pressure off their butter-fingered rookie gunslinger.
Out wide, redshirt sophomore Tre’Quan Smith and sophomore Tristan Payton, along with true freshman Dredrick Snelson and tight end Jordan Akins, have emerged as Milton and Holman’s preferred targets, though 14 Knights have receptions to their name so far this season. Smith and Akins are really the only two you’ll need to know for this season, though, as they’ve accounted for 53 percent of the team’s total receiving yards and two of the four receiving touchdowns.
I haven’t spent a ton of time on special teams in these preview series, but Central Florida just had two punts and a field goal blocked against the Wolverines. Michigan is a top-5 team; still, UCF, get your shit together.
Speaking of which, there is yet another broken unit in need of fixing—the UCF defense, 2015's 118th-worst scoring defense in the nation. Considering the Knights offense is barely converting a quarter of its third-down opportunities, just like a year ago, it makes sense the Knights defense would grow weary early on and let the scoreboard test its boundaries. But in six periods against Maryland, the team managed to hold together, allowing 30 points and just 127 passing yards.
Central Florida’s base defense switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 upon the arrival of Frost and new defensive coordinator Erik Chinander. He inherited a line consisting of Trysten Hill and Tony Guerad at defensive end and Jamiyus Pittman nose guard. While they own the majority of the snaps, reserves Brendon Hayes, Jock Petree, and Joey Connors have all seen time, as Chinander likes to rotate in fresh bodies. The second level is run by Mark Rucker, Errol Clarke, Shaquem Griffin, and Demeitre Brim.
Senior corner Shaquill Griffin is at the helm of a secondary that’s already cut nearly 60 yards off its per-game average from a year ago. Aside from Griffin, who is the unit’s ballhawk, T.J. Mutcherson leads the secondary with 3.0 tackles for loss from his spot at safety, where he starts alongside Drico Johnson. D.J. Killings rounds out the group at the final corner slot.
Fun fact: Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin constitute one of three sets of twins on UCF’s roster. After spending three years on the sidelines watching older brother Shaquill work his way up through the ranks of the UCF secondary, Shaquem—a redshirt junior and the younger of the two by 16 seconds—now joins his brother on the field as a starting linebacker for the Knights in the duo’s fourth season. He is the team’s third-leading tackler at the moment with 19 total stops, 2.5 coming for a loss, and does so without his left hand, which he lost to amputation at the age of four after being diagnosed with amniotic band syndrome. I highly suggest you take a few minutes to read The Orlando Sentinel’s feature on the Griffin brothers, as these seem to be two genuinely good football brothers—ya know, the kind that would get fat with one another.
As much as it pains me to say it, the No. 1 team in both the nation and our hearts will not be playoff-bound come January. Already, the Knights have improved on last year’s 0-12 campaign, claiming a Week 1 victory against South Carolina State and shattering dreams of a repeat winless No. 1. The shellacking Central Florida took against Michigan was to be expected. But this past weekend’s game against Maryland showed me UCF may not be completely lost. After all, if you fumble the ball six times and still take a team to double-overtime, something’s working, right? (Maryland probably just sucks.)
Scott Frost’s got jokes.
He’s most likely a dick.
Sept. 3: S.C. State
Sept. 10: @ Michigan
Sept. 17: Maryland
Sept. 24: @ FIU
Oct. 1: @ ECU
Oct. 7: Tulane
Oct. 15: Temple
Oct. 22: @ UConn
Oct. 29: @ Houston
Nov. 12: Cincinnati
Nov. 19: Tulsa
Nov. 26: @ South Florida