When a program is defined by star players it is a catch-22, especially if the program is a non traditional power. Of course the stars can carry the program to great heights, for example winning a BCS game. They also bring much needed attention and press to the team that the team would never get without the stars. Star players at these non-traditional power programs become the face of said school.
For all of the good, there are drawbacks. When stars at these small programs do become the face of the school, the media seems to forget about the other players on the team, the players that don't have the biggest or flashiest of names, but are the backbone of the program. Also when said star players leave, every prognosticator expects the non-traditional power to fade into irrelevancy. UCF has come to this cross road; it is up to a group of unknown players to carry the program and keep it from fading again.
Raise your hand if you have ever heard of Breshad Perriman, Rannell Hall, Jacoby Glenn, and Terrance Plummer. What if I told you that two were conference All Americans in 2013? One was the defensive MVP in a BCS bowl and had 110 tackles in one season. Two of them are considered to be some of the fastest wide receivers in the NCAA.
Still don't know the names? That's ok, they don't mind.
In fact these players are used to being overlooked. In fact most of UCF's players come to the school from being overlooked by said programs, this includes the likes of FIU and FAU. It is no surprise that the names are not familiar. Other programs' losses have been UCF's gain. One example is running back William Stanback, who was lightly recruited and has become one of the best backs in the AAC. UCF fans have embraced these types of players and the players have responded. If you don't know the names, you will.
UCF's 2013 season would not have been as successful had it not been for these unknowns. I know what most of you are going to say: "Bortles carried the team last season. Now that he's gone UCF will be mediocre again."
You are going to be proven wrong.
It wasn’t Bortles that salvaged the AAC season against Memphis with two critical interceptions. Up 24-17 against the lowly Tigers, it was Plummer that intercepted the ball on the Knight’s own 6 yard line to secure the first of many AAC wins. Had UCF lost that game, they do not win the AAC and do not end up in The Fiesta Bowl. Against bottom feeder USF, it was Perriman that burned the Bulls secondary to put the Knights in front. Oh, how can I forget J.J. Worton's catch against Temple that saved UCF from national shame? Stanback literally ran over a Rutgers defender in arguably UCF's most lopsided victory of the season.
Yet nobody ever talked about these players. To the few national media that covered UCF it was all about Storm and Bortles. They were the stars the other players were "scrubs" within a "gimmick system". That's a funny narrative that occurs when players that were not highly recruited exceed expectations. When it was announced that UCF would play the mighty Baylor Bears in the Fiesta Bowl, analysts David Pollack and Mark May could not name a player outside of Bortles or Storm Johnson. In fact May went on to call Bortles' supporting cast "scrubs". Well, those "scrubs" outperformed UCF's star in the program's biggest game and led the Knights into history.
The 2013 Fiesta Bowl was a showcase for the unknowns of UCF. All the talk leading up to the game was about Bortles and Storm. The narrative had been crafted that the other players did not matter, whatever they did in the Fiesta Bowl would be moot. Never mind that Hall turned two screen passes into touchdowns, or that because Perriman forced a double team and opened up the short passing game due to his deep threat ability.
Forget that much-maligned cornerback Jordan Ozerities shut down Tevin Reese on third and long at a crucial point in the Fiesta Bowl. It was still all about the superstars of UCF. In fact, one ESPN anchor had confused Hall with fellow WR Josh Reese. Speaking of Reese, he went unnoticed despite putting on some of the more impressive blocks by a wide receiver in the game. And it was Josh Reese, the unsung hero, that stood at mid field waving the UCF flag proudly. These players shined when the spotlight was on them, but as usual, were ignored.
UCF has a long lineage of turning unknown players into stars. Kevin Smith, Bruce Miller, Daunte Culpepper, Latavius Murray. These players were unknown commodities, yet would turn into stars. The 2014 team, with no star, will be the most important in program history.
With no Blake Bortles and low expectations, it will be up to the players that aren't well known to carry the UCF mantle and prove they belong with the major programs. The Knights have two directions they can go: either melt back into the pack of the glorified Conference USA that the AAC has become, or prove that this young program can win and become a TCU or Boise State. A program that nobody ever expected a lot from, but would become a major power outside of the Power Five conferences.
Nobody knows for sure what the Knights will do, but if you are betting against them because the stars are gone, well… that's a mistake.