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UCF 2016 Football Season Preview: The Restoration Project Begins

Restoring the Knights is a multi-year project, but Scott Frost should have UCF showing definite signs of progress in 2016.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

UCF won the off-season. The hiring of Scott Frost has -€” so far -€” seemed a coup. He reeled in a recruiting class that was far better than a winless program had any right to. He brings an up-tempo, Oregon-esque style that fans have responded to. Attendance at the spring game was a UCF record at 23,147 (also the best spring game attendance for any G5 program this year) and UCF's FanFest was also ridiculously well attended. There is a tremendous level of excitement surrounding the program despite the crater that the O'Leary era ended in.

The overhaul has carried through to other elements of the program. Bright House Networks Stadium is in the process of getting a new video board added. The Knights' uniforms have also been updated and vastly improved (and will have player names on the back for the first time since O'Leary ordered them removed years ago).

The burning question -€” soon to be answered -€” is how the team will perform on the field. Is the success on the field this season going to mirror the run up to the season's start?

Uh, nope. Probably not quite.

But don't let that be dispiriting. The Knights are still young at a number of positions[1] and I see them as winding up in the bottom tier of the AAC this year. But dang, the Knights are finally going to be interesting again. The Knights will play fast (so fast that the program is adding another statistician for game day operations). And they'll doubtlessly improve from last year's winless, injury-plagued campaign. It would be hard not to.

On offense, the Knights have a lot of upside. I'm excited by this group of receivers and believe that in a year or two we'll be thinking of them the way we think of the stellar group that had Breshad Perriman, Ranell Hall, J.J. Worton, and Josh Reese. Jordan Akins, who looked great before his early season injury last year, has been moved from WR to TE where he should continue to be a fast, strong target. Even with unreliable quarterback play, Tre'quan Smith garnered AAC Rookie of the Year honors and thrilled with numerous highlight reel catches in 2015. He should look even better as a sophomore. Tristan Payton is another sophomore to watch -€” he was second on the team last year in both receptions and receiving yards. Plus he just chased down and caught a fleeing voyeur, so he's extra worthy of our rooting interest.

The key will be quarterback play. Senior Justin Holman is the starter as of the Knights' first depth chart. He looked good back in 2014 and his deep ball could be a thing of beauty. But he was a disaster last year, suffering the early season injury against Stanford, missing a substantial stretch of time, and then playing poorly and turnover-prone. If he continues to play like his 2015 self, Nick Patti is a legitimate option at QB.

I look to Jawon Hamilton as a freshman whom I think will impress. When he committed, I predicted him as the next great UCF RB and he drew praise during fall practice as well. He's listed as co-starting running back with senior Dontravious Wilson and so ought to have plenty of opportunities. He's fast and had tremendous stats his senior year of high school (1,259 yards on 131 carries, or 9.6 yards per carry) -€” I am a believer that his success will continue at the college level.

On defense, the Knights will now be in a base 3-4 after years of being in O'Leary's 4-3. Last season the lack of communication on defense was painful and resulted in frequent blown coverages and defenders being out of place. We have to hope that the linebackers, especially, will communicate better. I'll look for Chequan Burkett to be a playmaker again this year (yes, even though the depth chart lists him as an "Or" at one of the ILB spots).

Overall, progress should be meaningful and I emphasize that the Knights should be much more fun to watch. But my gut says this is a four win team. Despite some of the reasons to be optimistic, I just don't know how far we can reasonably expect to advance -€” in one year -€” from a winless team that only played close games against Furman and FIU. Don't take me for a pessimist though. Even with all of those cautionary notes, I predict the season ends with Knights fans thinking the future is bright. The Scott Frost era is just getting started.

The restoration project begin the season at home versus South Carolina State at 7 PM on Saturday.

[1] And where the Knights are experienced, they're also mostly not very accomplished.