NCF Nation: Terrance Plummer

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl preview

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
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Baylor and Central Florida both opened the season outside the top 25, but that doesn’t mean much now. Both programs earned their first BCS bowl bids, and while Wednesday night's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) matchup may not have the same box-office cachet as some of the other big bowls, it’s an intriguing matchup. Here’s why:

Who to watch: There might not be a better quarterback matchup in any bowl game this season. Baylor’s Bryce Petty is a big-play artist. He ranks second nationally in yards per attempt (10.8) and first in passing plays of 25 yards or more (46), and he leads all AQ-conference quarterbacks in both completions (25) and touchdowns (13) on throws of 25-plus yards. On the flip side, UCF’s Blake Bortles has rocketed up draft boards and could be a top-10 selection if he decides to enter the NFL draft. In his last seven games, he’s completing 70 percent of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, and he has thrown 13 TDs to just four interceptions. But while the quarterbacks promise to steal the show, the running backs aren’t bad either. Both Baylor's Lache Seastrunk and UCF's Storm Johnson rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.

What to watch: Two high-octane offenses mean the pressure will be on the defensive units to stem the tide. For Baylor, the task of slowing Johnson will be front and center. UCF figures to want to run the ball, chew up clock and keep Petty and the Bears’ offense off the field. Baylor led the Big 12, allowing just 3.26 yards per rush this season. Meanwhile, UCF will need to find any way to slow the Bears’ big-play, quick-strike attack. Baylor’s 76 touchdown drives this season averaged just 1:31 in possession time, with 57 of them lasting less than two minutes. UCF’s defense, led by linebacker Terrance Plummer (96 tackles), needs to make Baylor work for its points.

Why to watch: For a sizable portion of the country, this is the last chance to get acquainted with two of the best teams fans likely haven’t seen often this year. UCF opened the season in Louisville’s shadow in the AAC, but Bortles could be playing on Sundays next year. Meanwhile, Art Briles has created one of the most exciting offenses in college football at Baylor. It might be the first BCS bids for both schools, but there is no shortage of star power and explosiveness on their rosters.

Prediction: Baylor 35, UCF 27. The Knights are a more talented team than they’ve gotten credit for, but in the end, Baylor’s offense has too much firepower.

In a switch, USF playing catch up

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
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Three short seasons ago, USF rejoiced following an overtime victory over Miami, proof once again the commuter school in Tampa could take down one of the traditional powers in the state.

Miami promptly fired coach Randy Shannon. Losing to USF? Simply unacceptable at a program with five national championships. Unacceptable at Florida State, too. The Noles also lost to USF, in 2009, in what turned out to be Bobby Bowden’s final season.

Those two victories stand as signature moments in USF history. But as the Bulls prepare to host No. 15 Miami on Saturday, there have been fewer moments to rejoice. USF is 0-3 for the first time in school history. Signature moments instead have become cringe-worthy moments.

Indeed, a program that once put up a billboard proclaiming itself a part of the "Big 4" in Florida has had little to brag about since that win over Miami.

To make matters worse, USF fans have had to watch bitter rival UCF -- just 90 miles down Interstate 4 in Orlando -- emerge as perhaps the second-best team in the American Athletic Conference. The Knights are off to their first 3-0 start as an FBS program and host No. 12 South Carolina on Saturday, fresh off a win at Penn State in Week 3.

The seeming flip-flop the programs have made is particularly stunning when you consider where USF has been. The Bulls once climbed as high as No. 2 in the national rankings, not UCF. They have the wins over Florida State and Miami, not UCF. They have the wins over UCF, too, dominating the nascent series 4-0 before the series ended in 2008.

In other words, USF always has lorded over UCF like the know-it-all big brother -- older, wiser and worldlier. For the first time, though, UCF is expected to be the overwhelming favorite to win when the teams play in Orlando on Thanksgiving weekend.

Nobody could have predicted that the last time they met. But nobody could have predicted the tumult that would unfold for the Bulls. USF is on its third coach since 2008, and a combination of coaching instability and indifference on the recruiting trail has severely hampered any progress toward building a championship team. It is now up to Willie Taggart to turn around the flagging fortunes.

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UCF team preview

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
10:30
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Today we're looking at the University of Central Florida as the Knights look to improve on their bowl win last season.

Coach: George O’Leary (112-88 career, 60-55 at UCF)

2012 record: 10-4

Key losses: RB Latavius Murray, DB Kemal Ishmael

[+] EnlargeJamie Collings, Blake Bortles
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Blake Bortles leads an experienced offense in The American Athletic Conference's inaugural season.
Key returnees: QB Blake Bortles, S Clayton Geathers, LB Terrance Plummer

Newcomer to watch: WR Breshad Perriman

Biggest games in 2013: at Penn State (Sept. 14), South Carolina (Sept. 28)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Knights have one of the strongest nonconference slates in the American Athletic, playing Penn State and South Carolina in September. Needing to replace seven of their top 10 tacklers from last season, a challenging schedule early in the season could be too much for Central Florida by the time it gets to its conference opponents. The Knights will lean on Geathers, Plummer and cornerback Brandon Alexander on a young defense that led Conference USA in scoring defense and pass defense last year.

Forecast: In its first year in the American Athletic, Central Florida will have the benefit of an experienced offense. Bortles was named to the preseason watch list for the Maxwell Award, which goes to the nation’s most outstanding player. Passing for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, Bortles will have his two top receivers from last year in J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall. Though last year’s leading-rusher Latavius Murray is with the Oakland Raiders now, junior Storm Johnson had 507 rushing yards and four touchdowns last season, expect to step into the No. 1 running back role this year.

Winning its appeal of the NCAA’s one-year postseason ban, UCF will be eligible for the postseason in its inaugural American Athletic season. The Knights were originally issued the ban as part of sanctions levied last July for recruiting violations in football and basketball. “I was very happy that we got the ban rescinded,” O’Leary said. “I always laugh with Coach O'Brien at Penn State; I blamed him, because our case came up right after the Penn State case. I still think the NCAA had their guns blazing at that time.”

The Knights’ difficult nonconference slate will be telling for when UCF plays AAC-favorite Louisville on the road. Picked to finish fourth in the American Athletic in the preseason media poll, the Knights have the benefit of playing South Carolina, Rutgers, UConn and South Florida at home. O’Leary hopes UCF’s nonconference schedule will help to bolster the new league’s profile.

“I think the key thing with this conference is not the conference playing themselves but the nonconference games,” O’Leary said. “You've got to get your share of wins there if you're going to take notice. That's how I look at it.”

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