As I settled in for kickoff at UCF's spring game on Saturday I couldn't help but notice the empty seats. Sure it was 90 degrees and there were 3 different BBQ food trucks outside of the stadium, but I found it a little odd that the AAC Conference Champion UCF Knights couldn't attract a crowd larger than 900 people (give or take a few). I understand that spring game attendance does not make the final measure of a team, but if it did than Ohio State is apparently 100X better based solely off the mind-boggling 90,000 people that reportedly showed up to their spring game. I'm not expecting to the fill the stadium, but the fans have to do better. This football team has given the fanbase a lot the last couple of years and we couldn't even manage to fill up an 8th of the stadium? Sports are a two-way street; the fanbase has a bigger impact on how successful sports are than you think. Case in point, Boise State.
All that being said, this UCF team is REALLY going to need some great fans come this Fall.
I'm not saying this is the worst Spring game I've ever seen, but it ranks in the bottom two. I truly struggled for 3 positive takeaways from Saturday's 20-6 game where neither team was consistent or flashy. This is what I was able to scrounge up...
Holman has the skills to lead this team.
Who was going to QB this team was a big question mark last Summer. And you might remember, Justin Holman wasn't the man going into the first game of the season against Penn State. We suffered through a half of poor quarterback play until Holman was given the reigns and he just about came from behind to win that game. Well this Summer things will be different! Holman is the guy. A season of experience and some SportsCenter recognition has his confidence high. I say confidence, because he looks like a veteran out there in the way he goes through plays. His play still isn't quite there, however. He can make some throws, and you bet your ass he has an arm, but he still looks his best when scrambling with the ball and trying to extend the play. Granted, that kind of ability is valuable in a QB, but who would you rather have, RG3 or Andrew Luck?
The defense doesn't appear to have lost a step.
While the offense was pretty putrid, some of the reason why has to do with some excellent defensive play by both teams. While it is hard to judge defenses in spring games due to the unique scrimmage rules, it wasn't difficult to see that the defense is going to keep this team in a lot of games. Right from the start, Redshirt Freshman Chris Williams jumped the pass on a Patti out-route and took it the other way for 52 yards to set up Holman's first TD pass. After such a lackluster opening drive by the first team, this flash of skill helped calm me down. Despite losing some key pieces to the defense, I think we will still have one of the best units next year. Keep your eyes on Chris Williams, Thomas Niles, and Miles Pace next year. They stood out both in the game and on the stat sheet as the key contributors to the defenses. One of them is bound to earn some AAC honors.
The field is open for stars to emerge.
Usually, the Spring game can be good for only one thing... providing a first glimpse of who might be next year's star. As I mentioned before, Holman is clearly "The Guy" on this team, but every Bortles needs a Storm. I kept my eyes peeled, evaluated skills, talents, great plays... I DESPERATELY wanted to see something happen that made me go, "Oh, yeah! That kid knows what he's doing.". I never had that moment. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily. Could mean we've got some of the best depth in the country, but it most likely means that some players are going to seize some opportunities. I saw flashes of potential on runs by Dontravious Wilson and C.J. Jones, and Tre'Quan Smith had a tremendous 50-yard leaping grab. Plays were definitely made - just not consistently. Long gone are the days of Perriman, Worton, and those guys. New names will emerge, however. Who knows, we could be chanting DiNovo in 7 months. Which brings me to my last comment...
What to watch for next year.
Twelve different receivers caught a pass during Saturday's Spring game. Of all the names called, none was more amusing than "DiNovo". It is interesting to see our once starting quarterback now catching passes from the guy that unseated him. That's a bit like watching Robb Stark catch a slant from Walder Frey. While I don't think there is any bad blood there, I think DiNovo's transformation into a wide receiver will be interesting to watch. He's only been a receiver for a little over 2 months now, but his number was getting called a lot during the spring game. He recorded only 3 catches for 12 yards, however he appeared to have been targeted at least 6 times. That's roughly a fourth of Holman's pass attempts. The play calling left a lot to be desired (seriously, every other play was a WR screen or an out-route of some design), but DiNovo has the body type to be a slot receiver that could do some damage depending on how well he takes to the position. While it isn't unusual to see a QB turn to WR duties, rarely do you see the former starting QB make such a change. That alone tells me he must have a set of skills GOL finds attractive in a receiver. We will just have to wait and see.
If I had to make a prediction as to how this team would fare next year based solely on this Spring Game, I'd say 6 wins. In the AAC I think it is closer to 8 wins, and if I'm being completely honest, no better than 3rd in the AAC next year. Luckily, this football team has quite a few more practices before the season begins.