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College Football Predictions: No. 33 UCF Knights

Central Florida has always viewed itself as a team capable of holding its own against the top teams in the country. So perhaps it should not be that surprising that eight of the 14 incoming transfers are arriving from Southeastern Conference programs.

UCF had 18 players transfer out and 14 come in, according to the 247sports.com database. However, six of the eight highest-rated transfers are the ones joining the Knights. The offense wasn’t as explosive as in years past and losing quarterback Dillon Gabriel was a big blow. The Knights will look to make a run at the top of the American Athletic Conference after Cincinnati and Houston battled for supremacy in 2021.

Ryan O'Keefe, UCF, Cornerback
Ryan O'Keefe / 247 Sports

UCF (+350) is currently third in the odds to win the American Athletic Conference title according to the college football picks. It will be the final run for the Knights, who are headed to the Big 12 Conference in 2023.

Gus Malzahn is the third coach for UCF in a span of five years, as Scott Frost and Josh Heupel left to take the jobs at Nebraska and Tennessee, respectively. With the Knights soon to be in the Big 12, perhaps the trend of UCF coaches jumping for better offers will come to an end.

UCF (+25000) is well back in the odds to win the national title according to the sportsbook.

UCF Knights

  • 2021 record: 9-4
  • 2021 conference record: 5-2
  • Head coach: Gus Malzahn
  • Odds to win conference title: +350

It remains to be seen if UCF will ever return to putting up the yards and points like they did five years ago, but many of the top players are back on that side of the ball.

UCF figures to rank higher than seventh in total offense in the American Athletic Conference after an inconsistent 2021 season on that side of the ball. The Knights had finished first or second in total offense in the AAC in each of the previous four seasons.

The running game should be pretty good with the return of top rushers Johnny Richardson, Isaiah Bowser, Mark-Antony Richards and Trillion Coles. The Knights led the conference with an average of 5.4 yards per carry; only Navy had more rushing yards than UCF did a season ago.

Leading receiver Ryan O’Keefe, tight end Alec Holler and receiver Amari Johnson are other key returnees on offense.

Former starting quarterback Gabriel went down early in the 2021 season and he is now at Oklahoma. Mikey Keene completed 64 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions as he stepped in for the injured Gabriel. Now the job looks to be his.

Starting offensive linemen Samuel Jackson, Matthew Lee and Lokahi Pauole are also back. Virginia transfer Ryan Swoboda is another offensive lineman to keep an eye on.

Receivers Kobe Hudson and Javon Baker come in from Auburn and Alabama. Tight end Kemore Gamble (Florida) and running back Demarkcus Bowman (Florida) and quarterback John Rhys Plumlee (Ole Miss) are among the prominent incoming transfers on offense.

The defense returns nine of the top 12 tacklers, although the transfer of leading tackler Tatum Bethune to Florida does leave some huge holes to fill.

The secondary should be in good shape with the return of Quadric Bullard, Divaad Wilson, Davonte Brown, Justin Hodges and Corey Thornton.

Defensive linemen Josh Celiscar, Anthony Montalvo and Ricky Barber will be back and will be joined by Auburn transfer Lee Hunter. The top returning linebacker is Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste. Linebackers Terrence Lewis and Branden Jennings come in from Maryland.

It can be hard to project the impact for freshmen, but twin brothers Andrew and Michael Harris could make immediate contributions.

UCF will also return kicker Daniel Obarski and punter Andrew Osteen. Johnson could take over the punt return duties while Richardson and O’Keefe figure to return kickoffs.

2022 UCF Outlook

There was a little bit of everything when it came to results for UCF in 2021, including a couple of blowout wins, a pair of lopsided losses and back-to-back defeats by a total of 11 points. That included a mystifying loss to Navy in conference play.

Something that those who bet online might want to consider,: UCF covered just once in the first five games in 2021 before going 4-3 against the spread in the second half of the season.

There are key contributors returning at every position to go with some high-profile transfers, so it is quite possible that the Knights will be the last team standing in the American Athletic Conference in 2022.

Getting to play Cincinnati and SMU at home and not having Houston on the schedule could increase the Knights’ title chances.

The expected regular-season win total is at 8½ for UCF with the odds at -135 for the Knights going over according to the college football odds.

2022 UCF Schedule

    • Sept. 1 vs South Carolina State
    • Sept. 9 vs Louisville
    • Sept. 17 at Florida Atlantic
    • Sept. 24 vs Georgia Tech
    • Oct. 1 vs Southern Methodist
    • Oct. 13 vs Temple
    • Oct. 22 at East Carolina
    • Oct. 29 vs Cincinnati
    • Nov. 5 at Memphis
    • Nov. 12 at Tulane
    • Nov. 19 vs Navy
    • Nov. 25 at South Florida

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