Why UCF will remain a contender

A strong recruiting class and returning starters on defense help UCF

Updated: March 5, 2014, 1:05 PM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider

Blake BortlesAP Photo/Alex MenendezBlake Bortles won't be back at QB next season for Central Florida. How will the Knights replace him?

The state of Florida has some history with college programs climbing the football ranking mountain, as the Florida State Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes each rose from relative obscurity to national prominence in the 1970s and 1980s.

A third Sunshine State team could be on the verge of making that same type of ascension. The UCF Knights have posted three seasons of double-digit wins in the past four years and ended the 2013 campaign with an impressive 52-42 win over the Big 12 champion Baylor Bears in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

But there are question marks about whether the Knights can replicate this performance in 2014 and beyond because they are losing two star offensive players, quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, to the NFL draft.

While those departures are notable, after reviewing the game tapes, metrics and scouting notes, it becomes clear that won't stop UCF's progression into national prominence.

Let's take a look at why UCF will remain a contender.

Tough defense

The Knights' strongest 2014 prospects look to be on the defensive side of the ball, as they return nine starters, tied for sixth-highest in the FBS.

This group was superb against the run last season, as UCF gave up only 122.46 rushing yards per game, ranking 16th in the FBS.