One of the advantages of playing in a bowl game is the fact you get extra days to practice and coaches use those days to not just prepare for the game, but to get their younger players prepared for next season.
George O’Leary and his staff have set up a system in practice to work on game planning for Rutgers, but they have also used the time to see what they have for next season.
Much attention, and rightly so, is on the quarterback position. Brett Hodges, unfortunately, cannot come back for another season. That means Rob Calabrese, L.D. Crow and Nico Flores have gotten their chance to take an early lead going into spring practice for 2010.
There are offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers and receivers who redshirted this season who will add depth and strength to next year’s roster.
But as we all saw this season, the 2009 group of Knights is very young. Look around and see how much talent is coming back.
The running backs return every player that carried the ball this season. Brynn Harvey will only get better and Jonathan Davis is the perfect number two-punch to push Harvey.
While Rocky Ross departs, look at who returns among receivers. Kamar Aiken, Brian Watters, Jamar Newsome and Quincy McDuffie all return. Khymest Williams comes back after sitting out this season with a knee injury and there’s talent among a group of players who redshirted. In addition, Adam Nissley became a solid pass-catching tight end and Ricky Kay and Brendan Kelly have added solidly to the H-Back position.
The offensive line returns as many as five players who logged a start this season and a talented group redshirted.
The defense, the unit that allowed the offense to grow through the course of this season, will be as good next season.
While Torrell Troup and Jarvis Geathers move on, Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year Bruce Miller returns. Darius Nall and David Williams also return and additional defensive line help is on the way via the recruiting trails.
Cory Hogue moves on at linebacker, but Lawrence Young and Derrick Hallman return. Chance Henderson comes back from an injury and freshman Troy Davis could become UCF’s next big-time linebacker.
As for the secondary, all but Michael Greco return and true freshmen Josh Robinson, Kemal Ishmael and AJ Bouye are good and will only get better. Throw in the return of a healthy Emery Allen, one of the best cover corners UCF has, and the secondary will be very strong.
The schedule is favorable regarding the conference. East Carolina and Southern Miss must come to Bright House Networks Stadium as will UAB and Rice. The Knights will travel to Houston, Memphis, Marshall and Tulane. The non-conference slate brings South Dakota and NC State to Orlando. UCF will return the game at Buffalo and travel to Kansas State.
No time to talk about the “every other year” trend. UCF is talented and experienced and 2010 should be a strong season. Houston will likely be the pick to win the league because Case Keenum will likely return for a senior season. But it’s tough to see anyone else be the choice in the east division aside from UCF.
So enjoy the bowl game, but the 2010 season is right around the corner and the future looks really bright.
Source: Marc Daniels’ From the Press Box runs several times per month on UCFAthletics.com. Listen to Marc during UCF football, men’s basketball and baseball radio broadcasts on the UCF-ISP Sports Network. Each weekday, Marc hosts “The Beat of Sports” on ESPN 1080 in Orlando from 9-11 a.m.