ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan hosts Central Florida on Saturday in the first meeting between the teams, and both will enter on an emotional upswing. Michigan is ranked at No. 5 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll and routed Hawaii 63-3 last Saturday. UCF earned its first win since 2014 with last weekend’s 38-0 rout of FCS opponent South Carolina State.
Shannon Green, who covers UCF for the Orlando Sentinel, gives some insight on the program — which has former NFL QB Daunte Culpepper, New York Jets WR Brandon Marshall and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles among its alumni — and first-year head coach Scott Frost, and has a great take on UCF and where it stands in relation to conference realignment. (Reality television fans, you’ll appreciate it.) You can read more of Shannon’s UCF coverage for the Orlando Sentinel here.
A bit of trivia about Shannon: Her great uncle is Jesse Owens, a four-time Olympic track and field gold medalist in 1936, and she spoke about his legacy and his impact when the movie about his life, titled “Race,” premiered earlier this year.
Follow Shannon and her coverage of UCF on Twitter at @osknights.
Q. UCF was winless last season but opened last week with a win against South Carolina State. What kind of tone does that set for the program, the team and its players as they prepare for Michigan and for the season?
Green: Before UCF’s season opener, the team hasn’t seen a win in 639 days. In other words, a long, long time ago. And think about this, UCF boasted the youngest offense in the country last year so the entire sophomore class hadn’t seen a victory in college sports yet until Sept. 3. Winning alleviated a huge pressure off players’ backs and that it happened in their backyard only added to the joy for fans as well as those who had to suffer alongside the team during a miserable 2015 campaign.
That being said, the victory came against a lower-tier FCS opponent so you can’t put too much stock into that moving forward. I don’t think last week’s victory did anything major to alter the challenges they’ll face against No. 5 Michigan, but from an emotional standpoint, it allowed the program to, as one player put it, “break the curse.”
Q. Who is one player to watch from UCF? Someone that people at Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor need to take note of?
Green: Junior defensive lineman Jamiyus Pittman has been a consistently good player for UCF, even throughout last year’s trying times. UCF switched from a base 4-3 to 3-4 defense this year under first-year defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and Pittman handled the changes well moving from tackle to nose guard. Chinander is a former offensive lineman from Iowa and is one of the few people at UCF with experience playing at “The Big House,” so it’ll be interesting to see how he’s able to get his younger players ready for that stage and noise. Pittman is joined in the starting lineup by Trysten Hill, a true freshman, and Tony Guerad, a redshirt junior.
Q. What are UCF’s program expectations for this season?
Green: Throughout camp, players had been extremely optimistic about the potential outcome for this season. Several said they believe they can pass a .500 season. Their belief comes from working in a system that caters to the speed and skill of players from Florida. That being said, it’s going to be a longer learning process for the offense, of course, than the defense. Because of all the cultural changes and system overhauls, coaches try not to put too much stock into numbers at this point. They’re emphasizing to players the need for daily improvement in their consistency of execution.
Q. A lot of Michigan fans know Scott Frost for advocating that Nebraska be considered for a share of the national title in 1997, with … Michigan. Fast forward 19 years: What do we need to know now about Scott Frost, the coach, and what his vision for the Knights is?
Green: Actually, Frost isn’t that much different of a coach than Jim Harbaugh in terms of philosophies. Like Harbaugh, he’s a players’ coach — obviously being that he’s a former athlete and can appreciate that perspective — and he’s a highly competitive person that wants to win. Both have backgrounds as being “quarterback whisperers,” if you will, with Harbaugh’s tenure with Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Frost’s guidance to Marcus Mariota at Oregon.
Frost hasn’t lost a lot of games during his coaching career, which spans from Northern Iowa to Oregon, and he’s hoping that won’t be the case too much at UCF during this rebuild. His vision is pretty straightforward in that he wants to bring UCF back to the level of prominence it was gaining in 2013 and help it sustain that level of execution.
Q. There’s been a lot of chatter about realignment, and UCF has been brought up as a candidate for membership to the Big 12 Conference. Is this realistic?
Green: Let me say this first, I hate this story almost more than anything in life right now. It’s ridiculous how this is playing out so publicly like a bad episode of “The Bachelor” … that’s lasted for seemingly two years. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I think it would be more realistic for UCF to have a shot at an invitation if the league were to add four teams. The school is reportedly among the list of finalists but without knowing what the hard-line standards are it’s impossible to tell which direction Big 12 leaders want to go in day to day. It’s like trying to guess who “The Bachelor” is going to fake propose to. You’re welcome for the plug, ABC.