By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Knights have alternated good and bad seasons in six years under head coach George O'Leary, whose squad went from a 4-8 showing in 2008 to an 8-5 finish in 2009. UCF not only rebounded to have a successful
campaign in 2009, but it nearly found its way back to the C-USA title game,
falling just short of East Carolina (7-1) in the East Division with a 6-2
The Knights traded wins and losses through their first six games of last
season, but the victories were nowhere as significant as the losses. UCF beat
less formable opponents in Samford, Buffalo and Memphis, while losing to bowl-
bound teams in East Carolina, Southern Miss and Miami-Florida. The losses to
East Carolina and Southern Miss came by a combined total of just 12 points,
but they were damaging considering the Pirates and Eagles were favorites in
the East Division.
The team though, rattled off five victories in the last six games of the
regular-season, with the one loss coming to highly-ranked Texas. The Knights
upended No.12 Houston as a highlight during that run, but ended the campaign
on a low note, falling in a 45-24 loss to Rutgers in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
OFFENSE: The Knights' turnaround last season can be partly attributed to the
offense, which made great strides after ranking last in 2008. Junior Rob
Calabrese began the season as the starting quarterback in 2009, but much like
his freshman campaign, he struggled. Brett Hodges then came in and turned
things around, leading UCF to a 7-3 record as a starter. Hodges though, is now
gone and Calabrese is once again the man in charge of running the show. The
6-3, 220-pound Calabrese has the skill set and experience to be successful,
but must prove he can handle the pressure. If not, highly touted freshman
Jeffrey Godfrey is expected to step in and he has a big arm and plenty of
"I've got to grow up a little bit this time and I've learned from the past two
years," said Calabrese. "I won't let (the emotional swings) happen again. Now
it's about controlling myself and not letting my emotions get to me."
The wide receiving corps is intact for the Knights and that should only help
Calabrese succeed. Kamar Aiken (6-2, 220) is the top returnee after posting
610 yards and nine touchdowns last, and he will be joined by A.J. Guyton
(5-11, 175) who notched a team-high 44 catches.
In the backfield, the Knights welcome back a real weapon in Brynn Harvey. As a
sophomore last season, the 6-1, 207-pound Harvey rushed for 1,109 yards and 14
touchdowns. Unfortunately, Harvey injured his knee in spring camp and could
miss some time. A pair of sophomores in Brendan Kelly and Jonathan Davis will
likely carry the load while Harvey is sidelined.
Jah Reid highlights an offensive line that is experienced with the return of
four starters, as the 6-7, 326-pound right tackle earned first-team All-C-USA
honors in 2009. The line is big and physical and should be among the best in
DEFENSE: UCF was stout on defense last season, especially against the run,
ranking fourth in the nation by allowing just 82.8 ypg. The defensive line was
a big part of the success against the run, but now must replace both interior
linemen. However, returning up front for the Knights in end Bruce Miller, who
was voted the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. The 6-2, 255-pound
Miller leads all active returning players with 27 career sacks, including 13
last season, and he will surely see a slew of double-teams all season long.
"Bruce is a whole different kind of player than anybody else because he goes
150-percent on every single play. You just don't expect for him to take a play
off ever. And there's a lot of respect given because it's hard to do that,"
said UCF offensive tackle Nick Pieschel.
At linebacker, the Knights should also be solid and Derrick Hallman highlights
the returnees. The 6-0, 218-pound Hallman is the vocal and emotional leader of
the unit and he has tons of experience with 193 career tackles to his credit.
Lawrence Young (6-0, 220) is also welcomed back and he is playmaker that
tallied 11 TFLs and two recovered fumbles in 2009.
Another playmaker can be found in the secondary, as corner Josh Robinson
returns following a terrific rookie campaign. A freshman All-American,
Robinson came up with a school-record six INTs and a freshman-leading 14 PBUs
in 2009. He also had 69 tackles, showing he could tackle as well as cover.
Safety Kemal Ishmael also turned in a noteworthy freshman campaign last
season, finishing with 70 tackles while starting nine games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Nick Cattoi connected on 14-of-20 field goals last season while
showing good leg strength and he returns to his starting job. Also back is
punter Blake Clingan, who averaged 37.3 per kick with good hang time.
OUTLOOK: The Knights have plenty of returning talent to compete for the league
title, but they have yet to post consecutive winning seasons under O'Leary.
Much of the team's success resides on the arm of Calabrese, who has been
unable to finish a season as the starter. The defense should be stout, so its
up to the offense to keep up. UCF doesn't have all that tough of a non-
conference schedule either and that should only help the team's chance of
returning to the postseason.