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Friday, October 24, 2014

Know your foe: Week 3, Central Florida

The Knights return nine starters from one of the best defenses in the nation last season.

2013 Record: 12-1 (8-0)

Series History: 1-0 (MIZZ)

Last Meeting: Missouri won 21-16 (2012)

Players to Watch: UCF defensive backs Clayton Geathers and Jacoby Glenn

2014 Projection: 7-5 (6-3)

An early-season taste of Florida in mid-Missouri? That's a reason to celebrate. But the Central Florida Knights have already been doing plenty of their own lately.

UCF went 11-1 in the regular season last year, winning the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship before capping off its greatest season in school history with a 52-42 upset of the Baylor Bears in the Fiesta Bowl.

The party was capped by star quarterback Blake Bortles forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft and being selected third overall by his hometown Jacksonville Jaguars. It was a season fans across the Sunshine State won’t soon forget, but another season now looms on the horizon and the team has some major holes to fill.

Bortles will be one of the toughest replacements across college football when camp opens in August. Central Florida head coach George O’Leary must also replace the Knights’ leading rusher last season, Storm Johnson, plus half of last season’s starters along the offensive line.

Despite the major losses, Central Florida returns a total of 16 starters from last year’s squad, including nine to one of the best defensive units in the country.

With exception of defensive tackle E.J. Dunston and linebacker Sean Maag, the Knights return everyone from a unit that only allowed 21.3 points per game a season ago, good for 17th in all of college football. To put that into perspective, that is nearly half of Missouri’s points-per-game average last year. The Knights outplayed the Tigers defensively in 2013, in terms of points and yards allowed.

And offensively, while Bortles’ replacement, sophomore Justin Holman, adjusts to his new gig as the man behind center, he’ll have a stable of experienced targets to ease his transition. The team returns its three leading receivers from a potent passing attack.

The Tigers will have their work cut out for them in this contest and it will likely be the season’s first true test.

Sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk will face a secondary that returns all of its starters, including two all-conference performers in cornerback Jacoby Glenn and safety Clayton Geathers. The Knight secondary was one of the best in the nation last season, with 14 interceptions and 57 passes defended (10th nationally).

For the Mizzou secondary, this matchup presents a different kind of challenge. Instead of opposing quarterback play, the Tigers will need to worry about their own lack of experience at the position.

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