With all of the questions surrounding the UCF offense in the wake of losing its quarterback and top rusher from last season, perhaps the biggest question stems from three more losses: The three seniors on the offensive line. So our next question deals squarely with that:
4. Will the Offensive Line come together?
This group had their issues last year, but their impressive showing against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl (albeit against a rather soft front seven) showed that the unit had gelled at the proper time. En route to a 52-point explosion against the Bears, the offensive line paved the way for a remarkably balanced 255 rushing yards and 301 passing yards.
It was largely through the senior leadership of Jordan and Justin McCray, along with Chris Martin, that the Knights offensive line provided massive holes for runners and plenty of time for Blake Bortles to bail UCF out of some tense late-game situations throughout the season. But those three are gone now, as are their 88 combined starts on the line over the course of their careers.
The 2014 edition of UCF’s offensive line averages just over 6 feet, 3 inches and just under 298 pounds across the board, with only both tackles coming in at over 300 pounds.
Torrian Wilson (6-3, 305 pounds), the lone senior on the front, is a preseason Outland Trophy watch lister. After initially moving to guard for 2014, Head Coach George O’Leary and Offensive Line Coach Brent Key decided to move Wilson back to left tackle.
“I thought he [Wilson] was a better tackle than he was a guard from an experience standpoint,” O’Leary said at UCF’s Media Day. “I think protecting that back side was more important, especially that speed end side.”
But Wilson had his issues protecting Bortles’ blind side last year, particularly late in the season. Against USF, it was only after a disastrous late series that UCF gave him some help, sending a back to double-team the Bulls’ Julius Forte, which led to Bortles’ game-winning bomb to Breshad Perriman:
The only other returnee is Junior center Joey Grant (6-2, 291 pounds), a Lake Brantley graduate who started all 13 games last year as a redshirt sophomore. Now heading into his junior year, he will be called upon to captain the line and make the protection calls that will hopefully keep freshman QB Pete DiNovo upright.
But the rest of the line is in flux. The three players expected to replace the Brothers McCray and Martin all have quite limited experience.
Redshirt junior Tarik Cook (6-2, 291 pounds) is expected to take over at one guard position, where he started twice last season and played in six games total.
At the other guard, Pensacola native and redshirt sophomore Michael Campbell (6-6, 285) played in 12 of 13 games last season, but did not start any.
Redshirt sophomore Chester Brown (6-5, 317 pounds) is a huge addition at right tackle, opposite Wilson. Brown came to UCF as a defensive lineman, but switched sides of the ball last off season and played in three games in 2013.
But the big (in more ways than one) question remains: Will Campbell, Cook and Brown fill the massive holes left by last year’s graduating seniors, or will someone else have to slide in and provide the stabilizing force that Offensive Line Coach Brent Key and the Knights need up front?
Given the inexperience at quarterback, and the potential heavy emphasis on the running game resulting from that, if the Knights’ offense implodes at times in 2014, it will be up front where the failures occurred first.