Following a disappointing 2021 which saw the UCF Knights finish 9-4 and a distant third in the AAC, Coach Malzahn will look to get his high-tempo, high-scoring offense going in 2022. After opening games against SC State, Louisville, and FAU, Central Florida will welcome the Yellow Jackets to Orlando in late September.
QB Dillon Gabriel
You’ll remember Gabriel from our matchup with UCF in 2020, where he went for 417 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. After going down in week 3 with an injury, Gabriel departed for Oklahoma in January to reunite with his former offensive coordinator, leaving 2021 starter Mikey Keene as the de facto option behind center for the Knights.
WR Brandon Johnson
Johnson, who offered a reliable deep threat for an inexperienced Keene — the two connected for 8 TDs and nearly 20 yards per completion — will have to be replaced on the outside. Look for Auburn transfer Kobe Hudson to try and get behind the defense.
LB Tatum Bethune
Bethune was UCF’s leading tackler with 108 stops and 2 INTS in 2021, but heads up the road to Florida State leaving a number of incoming transfers and underclassmen vying to fill his void. KSU Wildcat Branden Jennings and Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste figure to have a major role at linebacker in 2022.
QB Mikey Keene
The Knights’ most trusted and experienced option at QB — Keene had 1,730 yards with 17 TDs and 6 INTs on 64% passing in 2021 after relieving Gabriel in Week 3 — Keene grew into the role over the course of the season and looks primed to cement himself as UCF’s starter. He will have to fight off transfer QB John Rhys Plumlee, whose electric playmaking ability could entice Gus Malzahn.
RB Isaiah Bowser
Bowser struggled with injury throughout 2021 but still put up over 700 yards rushing, including two banner performances, opening his season with 200 total yards against Boise State before finishing the season with 155 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Knights’ bowl win against Florida. That finale portends well for Bowser entering this season, and UCF will be happy to have the 225-lb Bowser back healthy and running angry.
S Quadric Bullard
Bullard was key to the Knights No. 6 pass defense in 2021, which had almost as many interceptions (11) as passing TDs allowed (12). He earned 2nd Team All AAC honors after racking up 83 tackles, and returns to a loaded and ballhawking UCF secondary.
RB DeMarkcus Bowman
The No. 3 running back and No. 20 Overall Player in 2020, Bowman didn’t make much impact on the field over his two seasons at Clemson and Florida. With the Knights depth at running back, however, Bowman could feature in specific packages or situations, allowing him to showcase his elite tools without being expected to shoulder the load from day one.
TE Kemore Gamble
Gamble comes to UCF after five years at Florida where he was a mostly rotational player before catching 31 passes for 414 yards and 4 TDs as the starter in 2021. He will join a Knights receiving corps in need of reinforcements, and will be a mismatch in the seams for opposing defenses.
DT Lee Hunter
A four-star recruit to Auburn in 2021, Hunter redshirted before transferring to rejoin Malzahn and staff in Orlando. He’s a prototypical DT who will look to eat double teams inside and free others up to record stats. The Knights are clearly happy to have landed Hunter, and see big things in store for the tackle this season.
While certainly not as proven as previous iterations, the 2022 UCF Knights still come into the season with depth at the offensive and defensive skill positions. Losses such as Gabriel and Bethune won’t be replaced 1:1, but expect to see a host of Knights players step to the fore in their absences. Malzahn has a history of utilizing exciting players in smaller packages, and that could result in gamebreaking plays from the likes of a Demarkcus Bowman or John Rhys Plumlee.
Expect to see heavy doses of the run game from UCF early and often against the Jackets given their depth at running back. That could really open things up in the play action game for Keene to connect with his receivers or big tight end Gamble. Defensively the strength is on the back end, and Tech will need to have success with its backs to loosen up the secondary. Much like in 2020, I see Tech moving the ball and scoring effectively, but ultimately being outgunned by a flying UCF team hitting their stride. Final Score: GT 31, UCF 42
How do you see Georgia Tech vs. UCF playing out?