Throughout the next couple of weeks, we'll be checking in with some of the nonconference opponents facing off with Big Ten teams in 2016 to provide a better idea of what to expect out of the less familiar teams on this year's league slate. Today, we'll look at Central Florida.
Opponent: Central Florida (at Michigan, Sept. 10/vs. Maryland, Sept. 17)
Offseason storyline: UCF is searching for a fresh start with a pile of young talent and new head coach Scott Frost. The former Oregon offensive coordinator and Nebraska legend is attempting to reconstruct the lightning-fast Ducks' approach to scoring points and winning games in Orlando.
Only a couple of seasons removed from winning the Fiesta Bowl, the Knights went 0-12 last year. The blame fell partly on the overburdened shoulders of former head coach/athletic director George O'Leary and partly on a freshmen-heavy offense that averaged less than two touchdowns per game. The good news for Frost is that he landed in a part of the country that breeds the speed he needs to run an Oregon-clone offense.
There's plenty of potential on the current roster, and the upperclassmen still remember what it feels like to play winning football. A turnaround is possible, but how quickly can Frost get things up and running for the Knights?
What's at stake for Michigan? The Wolverines have a 97.6 percent probability of beating UCF at the Big House, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. (So, you're saying there's a chance?) A loss would be a season-altering embarrassment for Jim Harbaugh's team. In a far more likely scenario, UCF will serve as the second of three home nonconference games that should allow Michigan time to choose (and build the confidence of) its starting quarterback while also providing a chance to iron out any wrinkles in its new defensive scheme.
What's at stake for Maryland? New Terps coach D.J. Durkin will get to scout UCF against familiar faces before traveling to Orlando in Week 3. Maryland has a chance to build momentum under its new coaching staff by starting the year against Howard, Florida International and UCF -- three teams that combined for six wins in 2015. Of those three, the Knights will provide the best benchmark for Durkin and company to see how their athletes stack up to an opponent before bracing themselves for a long Big Ten season.
What's at stake for UCF? Leaving Ann Arbor healthy and with a bit of dignity intact should be considered a victory for Frost in his first weeks on the job. However, Maryland provides a decent opportunity to show that 2015 was more of an anomaly than a downward trend. Will a struggling Maryland offense give Frost and quarterback Justin Holman enough wiggle room to find their stride? Holman threw for nearly 3,000 yards in his first year as a starter before regressing with a group of rookie receivers last fall. This game is one of a handful of winnable contests for Frost to start building momentum if he can pull off a slight upset.