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2020 college football preseason preview: UCF Knights

The 2018 AAC Champs look to get back to the mountaintop as more of Scott Frost’s recruits are no longer with the program. Can Josh Heupel regain the momentum?

Dillon Gabriel #11 of the UCF Knights wins the MVP award after defeating the Marshall Thundering Herd 48-25 at the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on December 23, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

UCF has been the best school in the Group of Five since joining the American Conference in 2013. And that’s with a 0-12 season thrown in there for good measure.

George O’Leary handed the reigns to Scott Frost, who rebuilt a culture in just two seasons and finished off a 13-0 campaign in 2017 before heading back to his alma mater Nebraska. Josh Heupel took over and won another conference title his first year, but fell back to 10-3 last season despite having a pretty loaded roster. Also the recruiting has slightly ebbed as well according to the numbers, with only the fifth-best class in the AAC for 2020 entering this fall. Will the drop-off continue?

UCF Knights Stats Breakdown

Full VIC breakdown

VIC Sheet explanation

Preseason Win Total From DraftKings

Over/under: 9.5 wins

Over +100

Under -121

Key Stats

  • The Knights return 71% of their players from 2019, good for 38th in America. That includes eight starters and quarterback Dillon Gabriel, as well as 39 game starts on the offensive line.
  • Defensively they lose three starters and 25% of the roster from a unit that finished last season 21st in the nation in SP+.
  • Dillon Gabriel returns at quarterback for his sophomore season, after 3,653 yards on 9.2 yards per attempt with 29 TD’s and 7 INT’s in 2019. The loss of Gabriel Davis as the leading wide receiver to the Buffalo Bills will for sure hurt, as will not having breakaway speedster Adrian Killins at running back.
  • SP+ Preseason Rank: Overall 18, Offense 26, Defense 26.


Team (2020 Preseason SP+ ranking)

* AAC Conference Game

vs. UNC (17)
vs. FIU (114)
@ Georgia Tech (58)
@ ECU (96)
vs. Tulsa (88)
@ Memphis (22)
vs. Tulane (73)
@ Houston (63)
vs. FAMU (FCS)
vs. Temple (72)
vs. Cincinnati (34)
@ USF (83)

Analysis, Prediction

The Knights have their toughest out-of-conference game during their recent run as they open against the Tar Heels, and the other ACC game at Georgia Tech won’t be a cakewalk either. And that’s before factoring in that the AAC should be the best it’s been since its inception top-to-bottom in 2020.

Otis Anderson returns for the Knights as one of the most dynamic running backs in the G5 after 1,091 yards from scrimmage last year, as does Marlon Williams and Tre Nixon at wide receiver, who combined for 1,547 yards and 13 TD’s receiving.

The defense loses Nate Evans at linebacker and Nevelle Clarke in the secondary, and the momentum has slipped a bit as the 2020 recruiting class is the worst since 2016. But this is still the side with the best Team Talent Composite in the American.

If the Knights fell at both ACC schools, they’d need to run out in conference to hit the over. They’ve done it before, but can Gabriel be the quarterback that Blake Bortles and McKenzie Milton were on the way to championships? The early numbers are promising, but there’s been some big mistakes and missed throws in key games.

Since they’re getting Cincinnati at home, UCF deserves to be favored to return to the AAC Championship Game in 2020. But this win total is a stay-away for us, and likely comes down to how much improvement you think Gabriel can make this offseason and the ability to replace key components defensively.

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