It’s no secret that everyone’s chasing UCF at this point, but that doesn’t mean they’re far behind. The Knights themselves have arguably the most interesting storyline in all of the conference to follow. Cincinnati emerged as a threat last year, and should be one again in 2019. USF and ECU struggled last year, but should improve. What should you pay attention to during their spring practices? Here’s something for each team in the East. If you didn’t check out what to watch in the West, click here.
UCF Knights: Who replaces McKenzie Milton?
This ultimately will be the talk surrounding UCF’s program for the next few months and well into the 2019 season. Darriel Mack and Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush battle it out for the starting quarterback spot, and it will be under the spotlight for a while. That comes with the success the Knights produced the last two years. Two undefeated regular season in a row are on the line, and the schedule is the toughest one yet. Mack and Wimbush shoulder a ton of pressure while Milton recovers from his devastating knee injury, and he may not be back even this year.
USF Bulls: It’s up to Charlie Strong’s guys.
Charlie Strong started out well with the Bulls, going 10-2 in Quinton Flowers’ final season. USF even began 2018 winning their first seven games, but lost their final six. Fans called for a change offensively, and they got one when Sterlin Gilbert left. It could be argued that these weren’t Strong’s guys that he recruited, but now his recruits get a chance to show what they can do. There’s plenty of talent to go around, including quarterback Blake Barnett, but that has to translate into wins. We will see how far they’ve come Week 1 against Wisconsin.
Cincinnati Bearcats: Underdogs no more.
Many expected the Bearcats to improve in Luke Fickell’s second year, but not many saw 11 wins. Cincinnati exceeded everyone’s expectations, and now they’re a serious threat in the AAC East. Desmond Ridder and Michael Warren emerged as a good 1-2 punch in the offensive backfield, but Kahlil Lewis is gone at receiver. Same with Marquise Copeland and Cortez Broughton on the defensive line. New leaders must emerge on defense, and Ridder finds himself in need of a go-to receiver. Cincinnati won’t sneak up on anyone, but they’re still a talented team.
Temple Owls: The quarterback carousel continues.
Throw in the fact that the defense must replace a handful of key starters as well as a new coaching staff enters the picture, and the Owls have some things to address in the spring. New head coach Rod Carey’s biggest issue will be addressing the quarterback situation. The last two years have been roller coasters at quarterback, and this year presents the same situation. It’s safe to say the position is wide open, but how long will it stay that way?
ECU Pirates: Who will be the new go-to receiver?
Holton Ahlers has the potential to be a great player in this conference, but he won’t have Trevon Brown to throw to this year. Deondre Farrier, Blake Proehl, and Tahj Deans all caught 18 or more passes last year, but it wasn’t close to Brown’s 74. If someone can emerge as a consistent threat, the Pirates offense should be dangerous in 2019. Mike Houston will appreciate that in his first year as ECU’s head coach.
UConn Huskies: Defense.
Not much more needs to be said. UConn’s defense, the worst in the country last year, must get better. Opposing offenses found little resistance from the Huskies last year, and the scoreboards tended to reflect that. Even with David Pindell doing all he could on offense to keep the UConn in games, the youthful defense struggled mightily. Competition should be aplenty on this side of the ball.