NCF Nation: Brynn Harvey
Why they have a shot: The Knights have put together solid recruiting classes for the past several years, so the talent level is there to potentially become the next Boise State or TCU. Quarterback Jeff Godfrey played extremely well as a true freshman, and the Knights are loaded in the backfield with Brynn Harvey returning to join Ronnie Weaver and Latavius Murray. The schedule features two tough nonconference games, against Boston College and BYU, but no ranked teams on the schedule. BC and BYU made bowl games last season, but neither was overly impressive. No question UCF is going to be one of the favorites to win its Conference USA division once again.
Why they won't make it: There are major holes to fill on the defense, which has been the strongest part of this team. Linebacker depth is shaky and leaders have to emerge to replace Bruce Miller and Derek Hallman. They also need somebody to step up at receiver to help Godfrey out. Unlike last season, most of the toughest conference games are on the road -- at Southern Miss, East Carolina and SMU. The Knights also have to play Tulsa, but at least that game is at home. As for the nonconference schedule, BYU is expected to be much better this season, and FIU is no longer a laughingstock. Only one AQ team is on the schedule, but UCF is 3-45 against teams from automatic qualifying conferences since it moved up to FBS in 1996.
2010 conference record: 7-1, conference champs
Offense: 7, defense 4, punter/kicker 2
QB Jeff Godfrey, CB Kemal Ishmael, RB Ronnie Weaver
DE Bruce Miller, LB Derrick Hallman, OL Jah Reid
2010 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)
Rushing: Weaver (186 carries, 890 yards, 11 TDs)*
Passing: Godfrey (159-of-238 for 2,159 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs)*
Receiving: Watters (47 catches, 651 yards, 2 TDs)
Tackles: Ishmael* (93)
Sacks: Miller, Darius Nall (8.5 each)
Interceptions: Reggie Weams (five)
1. Brynn Harvey is back. Harvey looked like his old self in the spring, returning after a knee injury cost him all of 2010. His addition gives UCF a loaded backfield with Weaver and Latavius Murray also returning, giving the Knights plenty of options.
2. Troy Davis is a player. Davis was impressive in the spring, with five sacks in the spring game, and should help fill the big shoes of the departed Bruce Miller, who left as the school-record holder in sacks. Davis, a rising junior, had 5.5 sacks last season and a big one at the end of the Georgia game, so he has experience. He showed he is more than capable of starting.
3. Godfrey showed improvement. After an outstanding freshman season, Godfrey showed again in the spring why he is the future of the program. He looked poised, and more polished in leading the offense and will only get better as time goes on.
1. Who will emerge as a playmaker at receiver? O’Leary has often said he wants Quincy McDuffie to take it to the next level so the Knights can utilize his vaunted speed. Well now is his chance with Brian Watters, Kamar Aiken and Jamar Newsome gone. Aside from McDuffie, A.J. Guyton will also be counted on as a key contributor.
2. Which linebacker will step up? Three starters are gone, making this a position that could feature a true freshman in Leilon Willingham making some plays. Two players who did well in the spring were not even at their positions at this time last year. Jonathan Davis is a converted running back and Ray Shipman played basketball at Florida before deciding to give football a try.
3. Leadership. UCF lost a great deal of senior leadership with the graduation of players like Miller, Hallman and Reid, who helped lay the foundation for a Top-25 season and first-ever bowl win. Which players will step up and take on that role in 2011?
Opening camp: UCF
Schedule: Practice starts today.
Sidelined: RB Brynn Harvey is out with a knee injury but could return as early as mid-September.
What’s new: Jeff Brinson has transferred in from Iowa and is eligible to play immediately because he was granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA. He could help UCF while Harvey is out, but has had problems staying healthy in the past.
Key battle: Though most every position has been settled going into fall camp, watch the center spot. Jordan Rae is atop the depth chart, but Zac Norris is right there behind him. Rae is a converted defensive linemen.
New on the scene: Watch for true freshman quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey. Though George O’Leary hates playing true freshmen at quarterback, Godfrey has the athleticism and the skill to play. If Rob Calabrese struggles, Godfrey’s number could be called.
Breaking out: Quincy McDuffie. Though the sophomore wide receiver is behind Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton on the depth chart, O’Leary says he has got to find a way to get McDuffie more touches. Considering McDuffie is one of the fastest players on the team, that would be a wise decision.
Don’t forget about: Jonathan Davis. With Harvey out, Davis figures heavily in the running game. He and Brendan Kelly split the reps in the spring game, but this is Davis’ time to shine.
All eyes on: Rob Calabrese. To say Calabrese has struggled in his previous stint as a starter is putting it mildly. He was benched after the first two games of last season in favor of Brett Hodges because he simply couldn’t get the job done. O’Leary insists Calabrese is more confident behind center. With an excellent defense returning, the 2010 season hinges largely on whether Calabrese can get the job done.
Quoting: "This is the first year that I have so many seniors back that are actually playing lettermen. … They know what's going on. I think it's the chemistry of that group that's important. I think they all understand what it takes to win. Now basically it's on their shoulders.” -- Coach George O’Leary, via The Orlando Sentinel.
Previous camp previews:
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the NCAA approved Brinson’s hardship waiver and he will be eligible to play for the Knights this season.
Brinson, a native of St. Petersburg, wanted to move closer to home after one of his family members suffered a severe illness. He just finished his redshirt freshman season with the Hawkeyes, but was hampered by a foot injury and carried the ball just one time for seven yards.
Brinson’s immediate eligibility could provide much needed experience for a UCF running back corps that will play the nonconference season without star running back Brynn Harvey. Harvey suffered a knee injury during spring practices and coach George O’Leary said that he would miss at least the first four games of the year.
During his four seasons at Northeast High in St. Petersburg, Brinson rushed for 4,925 yards and 67 touchdowns on 567 carries.
Calabrese completed 11 of 17 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown and had 90 rushing yards, including a 66-yard run for another score. He made decisions on the field that he hadn’t in the past two years as a part-time starter and played like he was in total command of the offense.
“I think they all have opportunities to play, but I think when you list who the starter is, I think it it would be the same way we practiced all year: it would be one, two, three as far as [Rob] Calabrese, [Jeffrey] Godfrey and [L.D.] Crow,” O’Leary said. “I wouldn’t hesitate putting any of them in now in certain situations.
“But I think heading into the spring and the summer and the skellies [seven-on-seven skeleton drills] and the conditioning and the chemistry that’s required, I think the leadership has got to come from the guy with the experience and that’s Rob. Again, I was very, very pleased with those other guys and they’re obviously going to help us this year.”
Godfrey, a freshman, made a valiant push for the starting job, but his lack of his experience is what set the two apart. From the beginning of spring camp it was Calabrese’s job to lose and he never let go of it. He took almost all of the snaps with the first team and showed the poise and maturity O’Leary said at the beginning of camp that he wanted to see out of his starting quarterback.
After the spring game O’Leary also announced that starting running back Brynn Harvey might not be ready to play until after the nonconference season, which is a big blow to the Knights running game.
Harvey suffered a knee injury during spring camp and after meeting with doctors last week, the team determined that Harvey's injury is more severe than previously thought. Harvey was the team’s top rusher last season, though several other running backs, including Brendan Kelly and Jonathan Davis have played well in Harvey’s absence.
“Hopefully [Harvey will be back] sooner, but my experience is you don’t count on that,” O’Leary said of Harvey’s timetable. “But I think both of them [Kelly and Davis] are good enough to get into the game and get the necessary yards for us to be successful.”
The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that coach George O’Leary thinks Harvey could be back in August, but the team won’t definitively know Harvey’s status until after he sees doctors next week.
“The swelling’s gone down,” O’Leary told the paper. “They’re going in to look at it next week, is my understanding. … I’m thinking probably late August he’ll be back. September could be iffy. Middle of September maybe. He could miss a game, maybe the first game, but according to what the doctor said he should be fine. In two and a half months, he should be running and all that. Hopefully we get him back as soon as we can.”
Harvey was the Knights top running back last season with 1,109 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Currently, redshirt sophomore Brendan Kelly is atop the depth chart and the leading candidate to replace Harvey. Kelly rushed for 47 yards on 11 carries last season.
Sophomore Jonathan Davis, who was the backup as a true freshman last season, is third on the depth chart. He had 310 yards and four touchdowns last year.
Harvey was injured during the first play of Saturday’s scrimmage and will require surgery. The date of the surgery is not yet known.
The university is hopeful that Harvey will be back by fall camp in August.
Harvey’s injury further depletes the running back corps that took a hit this weekend when coach George O’Leary announced he was suspending nine players indefinitely for missing class. Second-string running back Jonathan Davis was among the group that included junior wide receivers Kamar Aiken and A.J. Guyton, freshman wide receiver Nico Flores and freshman defensive back A.J. Bouye.
Brandon Davis, Kerlon Williams and Brendan Kelly are the remaining players available to split reps during spring practice.
The defense is what kept the team afloat most of the season, so this spring is where the offense needs to come together, especially with a new starting quarterback.
Here’s a look at UCF’s strongest and weakest positions heading into this spring:
Strongest position: Running back
Key returners: Junior Brynn Harvey (261 carries, 1,109, 14 touchdowns), sophomore Jonathan Davis (64 carries, 310 yards, four touchdowns), sophomore Ronnie Weaver (19 carries, 86 yards, one touchdown).
Key departures: None
The skinny: Top running back Brynn Harvey eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season, but the overall running game was inconsistent averaging just 130.54 yards per game. However, that wasn’t all on the running backs (see below). All three of the team’s top backs return and the group has the opportunity to be one of the top running games in Conference USA if it can get the offensive line to mature quickly.
Weakest position: Offensive line
Key returners: Junior left tackle Nick Pieschel, sophomore right guard Theo Goins, senior right tackle Jah Reid, senior left tackle Abré Leggins, senior right tackle Mike Buxton
Key departures: Left guard Cliff McCray, center Ian Bustillo
The skinny: The offensive line struggled mightily last season, which was part of the reason why coach George O’Leary signed six offensive linemen in his 2010 class (only five remain after Jose Jose had his scholarship yanked). The offensive line allowed 2.54 sacks, which hampered the production of quarterback Brett Hodges. The offense was better last year than it was in 2008, but it wasn’t where the Knights expected it to be. The offensive line, which is breaking in two new starters, including a center, will the focus this spring as O’Leary tries to find the right combination.
How the game was won: Rutgers was able to limit Central Florida’s running game and convert quarterback Brett Hodges' two turnovers into touchdowns. After playing even with the Scarlet Knights early, Central Florida couldn’t get closer than four points and Rutgers was able to secure the game in the second half.
Turning point: Rutgers linebacker Damaso Munoz intercepted Brett Hodges on the first drive of the game, setting up Rutgers' first score, and set the tone for the rest of the game. Hodges threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
Stat of the game: Central Florida’s 32 rushing yards is the second-lowest total of the season. The Knights had just 15 rushing yards against Southern Miss on Sept. 12. Running back Brynn Harvey, who came into the game off three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, had just 30 yards on 13 carries.
Unsung hero of the game: UCF quarterback Rob Calabrese came in late in the fourth quarter for injured starter Brett Hodges and led the Knights on a 10-play, 75-yard drive to cut the lead to 38-24 with 2:23 remaining.
What it means: While this is not the way Central Florida wanted to end its season, it has to be encouraged by the late play of Calabrese and running back Jonathan Davis, who are the future of the team. Both came in during the fourth quarter and helped the Knights score their final touchdown. There are a lot of young players on this team and the experience will serve them in 2010.
1. Ball security: Rutgers leads the country in turnover margin and several of the Scarlet Knights' points come off miscues. Central Florida ranks 16th in the country in turnover margin with just 18 turnovers, but five have come in the past three games.
2. Get Harvey involved: Central Florida has not lost a game this season when running back Brynn Harvey has rushed for more than 100 yards. In fact, those games have been among the highest-scoring games for the Knights this season. Harvey has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games and he’ll need to keep that going to give the Knights a chance.
3. Disrupt the offense: All year, the Central Florida defense has been the strength of the team and it will be called upon again to keep a streaky Rutgers offense in check. Rutgers can put points on the board, but quarterback Tom Savage also has a propensity for interceptions. The Knight have to come after him hard early to give Savage something to think about.
WHO TO WATCH: Bruce Miller, DE, UCF
Miller is the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and the Knights' best weapon against the stifling Rutgers offense. Miller ranks fifth in the country in sacks and 18th in tackles for loss. His job will be keeping Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage and running back Joe Martinek in check.
WHAT TO WATCH: UCF’s offense
While UCF hasn’t consistently had an explosive offense this year, it was spectacular in the final three games of the regular season averaging 40 points per game. In all three of those games, running back Brynn Harvey rushed for more than 100 yards. He had just two 100-yard games prior to that. UCF can score in bunches and makes a lot of its offensive fortune off of defensive turnovers.
WHY TO WATCH: See how UCF stacks up
Everyone always likes to see how the non-AQs stack up against their AQ brethren, especially considering how well Central Florida has played this season. The Knights lost both of their games against AQ opponents by an average of 26 points, but UCF’s best two offensive players didn’t play against Texas.
PREDICTION: Central Florida has been good this season, but it hasn’t seen a defense with as many blitzing packages as Rutgers is going to show in this one. This will be a defensive and low-scoring game. Rutgers squeaks out a 17-14 win.
Dec. 19, 8 p.m. (ESPN)
Rutgers take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Rutgers is proof that you can schedule your way to a bowl, as six of the Scarlet Knights' victories came against Howard, Florida International, Texas Southern, Army, Maryland and Louisville.
Yet there's little doubt that this team was improving as the year went along. That should have been expected since the Scarlet Knights were starting true freshman Tom Savage at quarterback, and one of their best weapons was Savage's classmate, Mohamed Sanu. Their development -- and particularly Sanu's added spark as a runner out of the Wildcat formation -- helped a rudimentary offense find its legs.
In Central Florida, Rutgers finds a team that's capable of scoring in bunches -- the Golden Knights averaged 40 points in their last three games, including a win over Houston. But Greg Schiano's array of confusing blitz schemes can often rattle players and teams who haven't seen it before. Central Florida will have less than two weeks to prepare for it.
The short turnaround also throws into question whether Rutgers wideout Tim Brown -- one of the Big East's best receivers and the team's lone true deep threat -- will be ready in time. Brown re-aggravated a sprained left ankle on Saturday against West Virginia and was not able to contribute. Without him, the Scarlet Knights may have to rely on their special teams and defense to help out in the scoring department, something that's happened with great frequency this season.
Central Florida take by Independents and others blogger Graham Watson: Central Florida was hoping rival South Florida would be in this bowl, but the No. 4 team in the Big East will present a nice challenge.
This will be a defensive matchup since both teams don’t allow many points and neither team’s offense has been lighting up the scoreboard this season. However, Central Florida comes into this game beaming with confidence after finishing the regular season with eight wins, four more than a year ago. The offense, which was last in the country in 2008, has been much better with quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey.
But the strength of the Knights is their front seven and their rush defense. The Knights are allowing just 82.50 rushing yards per game and have given up just 10 rushing touchdowns. UCF also ranks fifth in the country with more than three sacks per game. Both of those statistics give the Knights an advantage in the game considering Rutgers allows more than three sacks per game and its running game is generating less than 140 yards of offense.
Rutgers does have similar defensive stats, which should make this game a grind. Expect a low scoring game and probably a lot of turnovers.
And still, something appears to be missing as the Longhorns attempt to claim their first conference championship since 2005.
If Texas can beat Nebraska Saturday in Arlington, Texas, the path appears set for the Longhorns to make their second trip to the BCS national title game in five seasons. A potential matchup with Alabama or Florida beckons in Pasadena -- just like it did for the Longhorns to higher-ranked USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Even with that historical parallel in place, these Longhorns aren’t approaching the conference championship with a lot of national buzz. Most are seeing their Big 12 championship game with little excitement compared to the SEC championship game earlier on Saturday. It is causing the Longhorns to suffer in comparison to both the Gators and Crimson Tide as “Super Saturday” approaches.
The Longhorns have benefited from a series of favorable breaks throughout the season. Oklahoma was missing tight end Jermaine Gresham from the start of the season. Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford made it through only nine snaps in the Longhorns’ 16-13 victory over the Sooners earlier this season.
Some of the difficulty of the Longhorns’ trip to Oklahoma State diminished when Dez Bryant was suspended by the NCAA. The Cowboys also lost 2008 Big 12 rushing leader Kendall Hunter for most of the season. Hunter had one carry in the Texas game.
Even their toughest nonconference game against UCF featured a favorable break. The Knights opted to sit starting quarterback Brett Hodges and starting running back Brynn Harvey in their game in Austin earlier this season. UCF coach George O’Leary’s strategy appears to have worked as his team has won its last three games. But it still diminished the challenge the Longhorns faced.
The Longhorns have lost three tight ends during the season, including projected starter Blaine Irby. So it’s not like their rivals are alone in injury losses. But Texas appears to have gotten its fair share of breaks.
The Longhorns have relied on Colt McCoy’s short passing as their major offensive weapon – mainly to wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Their running game has been sporadic, but appears to be coming on as the season continues with the recent emergence of Tre’ Newton.
Texas’ defense had been the Longhorns’ major strength before being gouged by the Aggies for season-high totals in points and total yards. Before that game, the Longhorns had given up 37 points combined in their last three games and had allowed more than 21 points only once this season -- in a 34-24 victory over Texas Tech on Sept. 19.
Before that stumble, Texas had produced a remarkably consistent statistical season. The Longhorns still rank among the top 16 teams nationally in 13 of the 17 categories tracked by the NCAA. Included in those are first in rush defense, third in scoring, sacks, tackles for losses and kickoff returns, fifth in total defense, eighth in scoring defense and ninth in scoring defense.
Critics contend those numbers have been swelled by playing in a weaker-than-expected Big 12 and against a nonconference schedule that featured no opponents from conferences with automatic bids into the BCS.
Their margin over fourth-place TCU eroded from 114 points to 98 points in Sunday’s Associated Press poll. While it doesn’t appear that Texas is in danger of being lapped by TCU or Cincinnati, it still is indicative that the Longhorns’ status as a legitimate title contender could be called into question by some media members.
Texas should be a heavy favorite in the championship game. But it always hasn’t benefited them, especially in a game with similar circumstances eight years ago.
In that 2001 title game, Texas had a similar open path to the national championship game. All the Longhorns had to do was beat Colorado to qualify for a chance to meet Miami for the title.
Instead, the Buffaloes jumped all over them in a surprising 39-37 victory that sent the Longhorns spinning to the Holiday Bowl after their BCS title game hopes had appeared set with a victory.
Since then, Texas coach Mack Brown has learned to trust his coordinators more and become more of a delegator of authority. It has resulted in one national championship, a five-game bowl winning streak and seven consecutive finishes inside the top 13 at the end of the season.
That recent surge has helped change the national perception of his team from some of his earlier Texas squads, which always had trouble beating Oklahoma. In those days, Brown was known as “Mr. February” because his strong recruiting didn’t always translate into on-the-field success against the Sooners. Brown didn’t claim his first Big 12 title until 2005.
That image has changed. But the Longhorns still need a convincing victory Saturday to prove their legitimacy to much of the country heading into the national title game.
Central Florida quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey are expected to play this week, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The Knights two star offensive players missed last week’s game against Texas because of health concerns, but coach George O’Leary said he expects both to be ready for this week’s pivotal Conference USA game against No. 15 Houston.
Hodges suffered injured ribs after taking multiple hits against Marshall two weeks ago and Harvey injured his ankle in the same game.
Central Florida quarterback Brett Hodges and running back Brynn Harvey will not start Saturday against No. 2 Texas for what the school is calling health reasons.
Both players, who were nicked up in last week’s game against Marshall, made the trip to Austin, but will only be used in an emergency situation.
Rob Calabrese will start at quarterback and Jonathan Davis will start at tailback for the Knights.
Coach George O’Leary said earlier in the week that his team’s focus was on winning a Conference USA championship and that he wouldn’t jeopardize that by playing players who were not 100 percent in a nonconference game.
So, it's no surprise that the team's two best offensive players would sit especially with a game against No. 14 Houston looming next week.
“Our most important goal is the conference,” O’Leary said during his press conference this week. “That dictates what happens at the end of the year. Our team is aware of that. Our goal is to win the conference championship and our second goal is to go to a bowl game. I think that is what is on their minds. They are real enthused to play Texas. You have to play to win. The players that can go 100 percent are going to play and that's the way I have always run the game. I don't look at the next game until we have to play it. We are going to play the people that are available to play and hopefully those are the people who played last game.”