Central Florida pays its first visit to Michigan Stadium on Saturday for a noon kickoff. Football writer Tyler Graddy from UCF’s student newspaper, Knight News, took some time to shed insight on Michigan’s unfamiliar opponent this weekend.
The Michigan Daily: What’s been your impression of Scott Frost so far and the impact he’s had on the program?
Knight News: Scott Frost has completely recharged the atmosphere surrounding UCF Football. The level of excitement around the program is at the highest levels since the Fiesta Bowl, and players have all talked about how grateful they are for the changes made. Practices are more intense and up-tempo with music constantly playing, and players are no longer playing scared.
Recruiting has seen a significant bump as well. The program has been more relevant on social media, more aggressive in involving recruits and more approachable with a coach less known for his traditional brand of old-school, no-nonsense football and much more concerned with creating a player-friendly environment.
TMD: Where have you seen the biggest difference in the team from last year?
KN: The conditioning. Frost’s brand of UCFast football requires constant hustle and it showed in the home opener against South Carolina State. Both sides of the ball still have kinks to work out in their respective systems, but the Knights had plenty in the tank all game. Summer practices were structured to simulate longer and more intensive physical efforts than a game ever will, though the mental game still is in its infancy.
As for the players themselves? The Knights look like they’re having fun playing football again. Last year every game seemed almost like a burden for the winless squad.
TMD: Finishing 0-12 last year had to have been humbling for UCF. What do you think are the team’s expectations for this year after that?
KN: To be sure, expectations have been tempered after winning a share of the conference title in 2014 and then not winning a game in 2015. These players have done a remarkable job dropping the aura of that haunting season, however, and the expectation is for the program to return to winning ways this season.
That being said, Frost has emphasized that he and the coaching staff are less concerned about the scoreboard every week and more concerned with seeing continuous progress.
TMD: How about for this week? What are the expectations in taking on a very tough Michigan team?
KN: If the Knights can at least execute their game plan well, I think the team will consider it a success. Most of these guys have never even seen a crowd like this, let alone played against a top-five program.
The talk this week was that the Knights are carrying confidence with them from a great first step last week, but that the most important thing this week is execution.
TMD: What weapons does UCF have that could potentially give Michigan problems?
KN: Quarterback Justin Holman is the lifeblood of this offense, but with a receiving corps still working to establish firm footing, look for the running game to take a central role in the UCF attack. Frost has four quick running backs that he has pledged to rotate in and out this year, keeping fresh legs in the game and Holman has been asked to run more than ever before during his tenure as a starter.
Eight different Knights had at least a single carry in the first week, but watch for Taj McGowan and Jawon Hamilton to lead the way.
TMD: How has UCF’s offensive line looked so far, heading into a game against one of the best defensive fronts in the country?
KN: To say that the line is a work in progress may be a bit of an understatement — only one senior on the roster has seen significant action headed into this season: Justin Rae. The unit performed admirably against SCSU, blocking to rack up almost 200 yards on the ground but did allow three sacks — to an FCS team that led the nation in quarterback takedowns last year. Michigan will have ample opportunities to get after Holman.
TMD: Do you have a prediction for the game?
KN: Predictions can be tricky even when both teams are known commodities, but the talent disparity will be too much for the Knights to handle. Michigan wins 59-31, but UCF covers the spread and leaves with a much better idea of where the bar needs to be set in order to return to the glory days of 2013.