With no bowl game for the Huskers this season, Nebraska fans are focusing instead on Central Florida’s game against Auburn in the Peach Bowl. But other than being coached by Scott Frost, who are the Knights? Did previous head coach George O’Leary leave the pantry jammed full, or are Frost’s fingerprints all over this roster? Let’s take a deeper dive into Central Florida, starting at quarterback.
Sophomore McKenzie Milton (5’11” 170 lbs.) started all twelve games for UCF, completing over 69% of his passes for 3,795 yards and 35 touchdowns with just nine interceptions. He also was the Knight’s second leading rusher, gaining 497 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground and averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Not only did Milton earn offensive player of the year honors in the American Athletic Conference, he also finished eighth in the 2017 Heisman balloting. A three-star recruit, Milton had been committed to play for Hawai’i until Frost offered him a scholarship two days after taking the UCF job. His backup? True freshman Noah Vedral from Wahoo Neumann, who’s completed 22 of 29 passes for 276 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for 77 yards and two more touchdowns.
Sophomore running back Adrian Killins (5’8” 155 lbs.) raised eyebrows earlier this month when he said that Auburn “hadn’t seen speed like” UCF’s. The braggadocio aside, Killins might have a point. In high school track, Killins beat Auburn cornerback Javaris Davis in state track preliminary race; Davis is considered Auburn’s fasted player on their roster. Killins rushed for 762 yards and ten touchdowns this season, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Killins was considered likely to sign with Miami out of high school until Frost offered him a scholarship. Freshman Otis Anderson (5’11” 164 lbs.) split time between running back and receiver this season, rushing for 456 yards and four touchdowns (averaging 7.9 yards per carry) and catching 28 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Taj McGowen (6’1” 202 lbs.) rushed for 235 yards and eight touchdowns, averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
The diverse UCF passing game has 16 different receivers catching passes this season, but junior Tre’Quan Smith is the leader with 54 catches for 1,082 yards and 13 touchdowns. Smith was also the leading receiver the last two seasons, earning AAC freshman of the year honors in 2015. Sophomore Dedrick Snelson (6’0” 190 lbs.) is second on the team with 42 catches for 656 yards and seven touchdowns. Snelson decommitted from Miami and seriously entertained offers from Minnesota and Penn State before accepting a late offer from Frost’s staff to sign with UCF. True freshman Gabe Davis (6’3” 219 lbs.) caught 25 passes for 353 yards and four toucdowns; Davis was recruited by some schools as a tight end. Senior tight end Jordan Akins caught 30 passes for 459 yards and four touchdowns this season.
UCF will be without senior left tackle Aaron Evans, who had held the spot for 37 straight games, after surgery for an undisclosed injury. Redshirt sophomore Jake Brown (6’3” 303 lbs.) will slide over from left guard to replace Evans. True freshman Samuel Jackson (6’6” 356 lbs.) will take over at left guard. Jackson wasn’t willing to deal with any mother effin’ snakes traveling on a recruiting visit; the Bradenton, FL native only considered offers from South Florida and Miami before choosing UCF. Sophomore Jordan Johnson (6’2” 320 lbs.) started 12 games last season at right guard before sliding over to center this season. He decommitted from Wake Forest to accept an offer from Frost’s staff; he also gained nearly 50 pounds between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Central Florida’s 3-4 defense is anchored up front by 6’1” 295 lb. nose tackle Trysten Hill, who earned second team all-conference honors this season with 19 tackles, 3.5 for a loss. Hill, who originally signed a letter of intent with Virginia, enrolled at UCF in the summer of 2016 after the Cavs released him from his commitment. Senior defensive ends Tony Guerad (6’3” 275 lbs.) and Jamiyus Pittman (6’0” 295 lbs.) totalled 47 and 42 tackles respectively this season after earning second team all-AAC honors in 2016.
You may have heard about senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin (6’1” 213 lb.), the one-handed linebacker that was buried on the depth chart until Frost’s staff realized his potential. He’s third on the team in tackles with 62; his 5.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles lead the Knights.
I’m sure you’ve heard the story about Griffin practically moving into Barrett Ruud’s office. The results are clear: Griffin was named first team all-AAC both seasons after seeing his playing time limited to special teams his first two seasons. Junior inside linebacker Pat Jasinski (6’1” 233 lbs.) leads UCF with 96 tackles, while senior inside linebacker Chequan Burkett (6’2” 230 lbs.) is second with 74 tackles. Burkett was named second team all-AAC this season.
The UCF secondary is being led by junior first team all-AAC cornerback Mike Hughes (5’11” 195 lbs.) and junior first team all-AAC safety Kyle Gibson (5’11” 182 lbs.). Hughes transferred to UCF this season after spending 2015 at North Carolina and 2016 at Garden City Community College, earning Juco all-American honors. Hughes led the Knights with 11 pass breakups and tied with Gibson for the team lead with four interceptions. Gibson totaled 56 tackles, while fellow junior safety Tre Neal ranked fourth on the team with 61 tackles. His third interception of the season ended the AAC Championship in overtime, sealing UCF’s undefeated regular season.
Many outsiders merely assumed that Scott Frost’s accomplishments in two seasons at UCF were fueled by a stocked cupboard left by George O’Leary. That’s understandable if you remember that O’Leary’s 2013 team finished 12-1, losing only to South Carolina 28-25. But that 2015 winless season was a very real thing, with losses to 1-AA Furman as well as Bob Diaco’s UConn squad. Also very real is the infusion of talent from Frost’s recruiting efforts the last two years combined with the development work they’ve done to rebuild the program.
It’s something that should make you very excited about the future of Nebraska football. The results may not be immediate (UCF finished 6-7 last season, losing badly to Arkansas State in a hometown bowl game), but it’s clear this coaching staff has accomplished quite a bit in two years in Orlando.