McKenzie Milton (10) of the UCF Knights celebrates with teammates after defeating the Auburn Tigers 34-27 to win the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. UCF was the country's only undefeated team in 2017. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 22 Central Florida out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

Scott Frost, the architect of the Knights' undefeated "national championship" season, is gone. Will Josh Heupel keep things humming in Orlando?

Posted July 7th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

Today’s team: No. 22 Central Florida

The Knights’ best-case scenario: It should shock no one if the Knights go 12-0 again. Replacing Scott Frost as coach will not be easy but former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel brings energy to an offense that led the nation last season. QB McKenzie Milton passed for more than 4,000 yards and has enough capable players for an encore performance. Central Florida will probably be favored in every game. Although it’s unlikely they’ll be in the College Football Playoff, the Knights should be in the running for a profitable bowl game.

Their worst-case scenario: The Knights went unbeaten in the AAC last season, though three of those wins were by 10 or fewer points. SMU, Navy and South Florida were within striking distance and could knock off the conference champs if UCF’s offense dips without Frost. Central Florida could drop to 9-3 if a few of their key players get hurt. While the offense should put up big numbers, success will ride with a defense that allowed 25 points in league games in 2017.

RELATED COVERAGE: Can UCF break the Group of Five firewall into the College Football Playoffs?

RELATED COVERAGE: Knights hope Randy Shannon gives them a leg up on South Florida recruiting

Inside the Knights

Coach: Josh Heupel (first year)

2017: 13-0, 8-0 in the AAC (beat Auburn 34-27 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense

Goodbye: HC Scott Frost (Nebraska); CB Mike Hughes (1st round, Vikings); WR Tre-Quan Smith (3rd, Saints); TE Jordan Atkins (3rd, Texans); LB Shaquem Griffin (Seahawks, 5th)

Spring cleaning: Heupel, who was the 2000 Heisman Trophy runner-up as Oklahoma’s quarterback, has elected to keep the same playbook terminology that Frost used at UCF because both coaches share multiple offensive concepts. … TE Michael Colubiale (10 catches, 222 yards last season) was granted a sixth year of eligibility in June. He was redshirted in 2015 following an injury. … WR Tre Nixon, who transferred from Ole Miss in January, is eligible to play this fall, the NCAA has ruled. He redshirted in 2016 and caught one pass for 19 yards in 2017. … A possible breakout player might be sophomore Greg McCrae, who rushed for 57 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the spring game.

Dredrick Snelson (5) of the UCF Knights celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Auburn Tigers during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Snelson caught 8 touchdowns in 2017. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: McKenzie Milton, 265-395-4,037, 37/9 (1st)

RUSHING: Adrian Killins Jr., 122-790-10 (1st); QB McKenzie Milton, 106-613-8 (2nd)

RECEIVING: Dredrick Snelson, 46-695-8 (2nd); Gabriel Davis, 27-391-4 (4th)

TACKLES: LB Pat Jasinski, 104 (1st); DB Tre Neal, 68 (4th)

SACKS: DL Trysten Hill, 2 (T-3rd); LB Shawn Burgess-Becker, 2 (T-3rd); DL Joey Connors, 2 (T-3rd)

INTERCEPTIONS: DB Kyle Gibson, 4 (T-1st); DB Tre Neal, 3 (3rd)

Returning All-AAC players (8)

Offense: QB McKenzie Milton (1st team, off. player of the year); C Jordan Johnson (1st); RB Adrian Killins Jr. (1st); OT Wyatt Miller (2nd)

Defense: S Kyle Gibson (1st); DL Trysten Hill (2nd)

Special teams: K Matthew Wright (2nd); P Mac Loudermilk (2nd)

FYI

Feel the Heup: At Missouri, Heupel called all the plays. Although the Tigers passed frequently (309 yards per game), they kept defenses guessing with a consistent running attack (193 ypg.). On last year’s All-SEC team, Missouri placed the first-team quarterback (Drew Lock) plus a second-team receiver (J’Mon Moore) and tight end (Albert Okwuegbunam). Missouri ranked No. 8 nationally in total offense, 36th in rushing, 14th in passing and 14th in scoring.

13-0 — ’nuff said: The UCF website for athletics recognizes the football team as the 2017 national champions, noting that the Knights were the only unbeaten team in the nation. For the record, Alabama was declared the national champion after beating Georgia in the CFP title game. The wire services recognized UCF’s achievement — the Knights had their highest finishes ever in the Associated Press (6th) and coaches polls (7th).

Big teams on deck: The Knights will face some big name teams in future years. The 2019 team will play Stanford. The 2020 team will play North Carolina and Georgia Tech. UCF and Louisville have signed a home-and-home series for 2021 and 2022. They were supposed to travel to Austin in 2023 to play Texas, but Texas canceled that game in May in order to make room on the schedule to instead play Alabama that year.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 1st (48.2 ppg) — tops in the country, right above No. 2 Memphis

Points allowed: 52nd (25.3 ppg) — right above No. 53 Indiana, right behind No. 51 North Carolina State

Passing: 10th (331.8 ypg) — right above No. 11 Ole Miss, right behind No. 9 Texas Tech

Rushing: 33rd (198.7 ypg) — right above No. 34 Memphis, right behind No. 32 Kansas State

Total offense: 5th (530.5 ypg) — right above No. 6 South Florida, right behind No. 4 Memphis

Total defense: 93rd (427.9 ypg) — right above No. 94 Cincinnati, right behind No. 92 Old Dominion

ORLANDO, FL – DECEMBER 2: A UCF Knights spirit team member waves the flag after a score in the third quarter of the ACC Championship against the Memphis Tigers at Spectrum Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 30 (6 p.m., ESPNU)at Connecticut*
Sept. 8 (5 p.m.)South Carolina St.
Sept. 15 (11 a.m., ABC)at North Carolina
Sept. 21 (6 p.m., ESPN)Florida Atlantic
Sept. 29Pittsburgh
Oct. 6SMU*W, 31-24
Oct. 13at Memphis*W, 40-13
Oct. 20at East Carolina*W, 63-21
Nov. 1 (6:30 p.m., ESPN)Temple*W, 45-19
Nov. 10Navy*W, 31-21
Nov. 17Cincinnati*W, 51-23
Nov. 23at South Florida*W, 49-42
*AAC game

The key game: Nov. 23, at South Florida. The regular-season finale should determine the American Athletic Conference’s champion and runner-up.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
201312-1 (8-0)— / 10thFiesta, W
20149-4 (7-1)— / —St. Petersburg, L
20150-12 (0-8)— / —No bowl
20166-7 (4-4)— / —Cure, L
201713-0 (8-0)— / 6thChick fil-A Peach, W
Total40-24 (27-13)2-2 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final rankings.

Our Top 25, by conferences

1 school:

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

Pac-12 — No. 23 Oregon

SEC — No. 24 LSU

Big 12 — No. 25 Texas

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 21 team

Want a hint?

This school has produced three Heisman Trophy winners, all quarterbacks — one of whom went to the NFL, one of whom went to the NBA and one of whom had already played professional baseball.

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