Friday, April 20, 2018
Colleges

UCF Knights aim to stay on top

ORLANDO

UCF coach George O'Leary moved on in January.

The Knights' 12-1 season, including the first BCS game victory in school history, was special and vaulted his program into the national spotlight.

However, during a team meeting a few weeks after celebrating in Glendale, Ariz., O'Leary told his players last season was over. It was time to get back to work, time to chase another championship.

"I think people called us a one-hit wonder that one year we beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl (2010), and then (again) coming back and winning the St. Pete Bowl (2012)," UCF senior receiver J.J. Worton said. "This year is just another story that we're ready to write, it's just new characters that are in it and we're going to take what we need to and put it on the field."

Despite the departure of stars Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson, the Knights have high hopes they can repeat as American Athletic Conference champions and make it to an elite bowl.

Keys to the season

Strong secondary: The secondary might be one of the most important pieces to UCF's defense this season, with several American Athletic Conference teams using the spread offense to showcase their talented receivers. Eight receivers from the conference are on the Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list. The award is presented to the nation's top receiver and the American has more people on the list than any other conference.

Will Stanback's success: O'Leary has said championship teams rely on a strong run game and much will be expected out of William Stanback, who replaces Storm Johnson. Stanback should get some help from Dontravious Wilson, who turned in a strong spring season.

Players to know

RB Will Stanback: After playing backup to Jacksonville Jaguars-bound Storm Johnson, Stanback is ready to lead the run game. He was named to the All-American Conference second team as a freshman last season after he collected 443 yards on 105 carries and six touchdowns off the bench.

C Joey Grant: Managing a smooth snap exchange is imperative this season as he'll be asked to help lead inexperienced quarterback Pete DiNovo, a redshirt freshman from East Lake. Grant and left tackle Torrian Wilson are the sole full-time returning starters to the offensive line.

WR Rannell Hall: The Knights have an arsenal of receivers and Hall is one of the leaders in the pack as he netted a team-high 886 yards last season.

S Clayton Geathers: With a number of talented receivers in the conference, Geathers and the secondary will get a chance to show their experience in the open field.

LB Terrance Plummer: The heart, soul and voice leads a defense that returns nine starters.

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