Big 12 Snapshot: UCF Knights

Good morning. I’m introducing a new series intended to take a look at each team in the new Big 12. I’m not sure how many I’ll get done each week, but the only way for me to really know about these teams is to actually do the research so I can be relatively informed when the season hits. So I spent time doing the research this weekend. There are links to everything below so if there isn’t a link, then I didn’t write it, but I always link back to the originator of the content. I wanted to take a quick look at the team: get a feel for the best players; look into their portal class consisted and how they ranked overall; a look at the 2024 recruiting class; and ending on the graphic from Sharp College Football.

Previous Snapshots: Arizona | Arizona State | Baylor | BYU | Cincinnati | Colorado | Houston | Iowa State | Kansas | Kansas State | Oklahoma State | TCU | Texas Tech

Snapshot: Typically I write about what returns for the team, but I sort of think that’s largely irrelevant with UCF. They went portal shopping and although Colorado gets a lot of grief for going so hard into the portal (and justifiably so), UCF may be just like the Buffs in terms of portal shopping. It starts with Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson who should be fantastic in Malzahn’s offense. There are so many running back options and then you add Penny Boone from Louisville and it gets even better. Last in rush defense in the Big 12 last year, need stoppers on defensive line and at linebacker. Miami DE Nyjalik Kelly is positioned to be a star while former Texas Tech footballer linebacker Jesiah Pierre should start immediately to help with that run defense.

Do the Knights play Texas Tech? Nope.

Returning Starters: Offensive returning starters – 5 (38% of offensive production); Defensive returning starters – 6 (60% of defensive production).

Transfer Portal Arrivals: 23. Impact players are Jefferson and Boone for sure. I’ve heard of those guys and they are good. Defensively is where the Knights needed the biggest impact as well as offensive line, 3 offensive linemen and 3 defensive linemen and linebackers, but 7 defensive backs.
QB KJ Jefferson (from Arkansas)
QB Jacurri Brown (from Miami)
RB Myles Montgomery (from Cincinnati)
RB Peny Boone (from Louisville/Toledo)
WR Jacoby Jones (from Ohio)
TE Evan Morris (from Michigan State)
TE Reece Adkins (from Eastern Kentucky)
OL Jabari Brooks (from Samford)
OL Keegan Smith (from Central Michigan)
OL Wes Dorsey (from Western Kentucky)
DL Daylan Dotson (from Tennessee-Martin)
DL Derrick LeBlanc (from Oklahoma)
DL Nyjalik Kelly (from Miami)
LB Jesiah Pierre (from Texas Tech)
LB Xe’ree Alexander (from Idaho)
LB Ethan Barr (from Washington/Vanderbilt)
DB Deshawn Pace (from Cincinnati)
DB Bryon Threats (from Cincinnati)
DB Sheldon Arnold (from East Tennessee State)
DB Cedrick Hawkins (from Ohio State)
DB Tre’Quon Fegans (from USC)
DB Antione Jackson (from East Carolina)
DB Ladarius Tennison (from Ole Miss)

On3 Transfer Index Score: +17 (Big 12 high is +68 with Colorado and low is -30 with Houston)

Spring Portal Grades: A

Key additions: Peny Boone, RB (Louisville); Jacurri Brown, QB (Miami); Tre’quon Fegans, CB (Southern California); Nyjalik Kelly, EDGE (Miami); Cedrick Hawkins, S (Ohio State); Keegan Smith, IOL (Central Michigan); Jacoby Jones, WR (Ohio)

Key subtractions: Demarkcus Bowman, RB (Uncommitted); Timmy McClain, QB (Arkansas State); Nikai Martinez, CB (Uncommitted); Josh Celiscar, EDGE (Texas A&M)

Outlook: Despite losing a former five-star running back and its projected backup quarterback, Central Florida ended up as one of the biggest winners of the spring window. The Knights replaced Bowman with MAC Offensive Player of the Year Boone, who ranked seventh in the nation in yards per carry (7.22) and eighth in rushing yards (1,400). Meanwhile, Miami transfer Brown should fill in for McClain as a backup option behind K.J. Jefferson at the quarterback position.

Central Florida wasn’t done there, either. The Knights also came away with several other impact additions, bringing in four-star defenders in Southern California defensive back Fegans and Miami edge rusher Kelly, who are both poised for breakout years.

Pac 12 2024 Recruiting & Big 12 2024 Recruiting: Eighteen prospects signed with UCF and 16 of them are from either Florida or Georgia as coach Gus Malzahn and his staff don’t have to stray too far from home to put together an impressive recruiting class. Only Texas and Oklahoma – teams that are off to the SEC – have more four-stars.

RB Stacy Gage, WR Bredell Richardson and TE Kylan Fox are all big-time playmakers.

Grade: B+

Sharp College Football Beta Rank Deep Dive: UCF was a fantastic offense, but they also had really good quarterback play. An absolute killer running the ball and decent enough throwing the ball. Just an incredibly effective offensive team. Defensively, it was a bit different, not great at stopping the run, too many negative drives and too many explosive drives given up on defense. They certainly recruited enough to change how that may happen in 2024.

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