State Colleges

Frost hopes to heat up UCF in Year 1

Central Florida wide receiver Trystan Payton (6) runs a drill during the team's first preseason football practice, Fri., Aug. 5, 2016, indoors at the Nicholson Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla.
Central Florida wide receiver Trystan Payton (6) runs a drill during the team's first preseason football practice, Fri., Aug. 5, 2016, indoors at the Nicholson Fieldhouse in Orlando, Fla. TNS

Scott Frost knew what he was walking into.

Football at the University of Central Florida was on a downward spiral, with injuries, late mistakes and poor execution on both sides of the ball seemingly hindering the Knights every week last season.

All in all, it led to an 0-12 season, 12-year coach George O’Leary resigning and a team that just three years ago went 12-1 and defeated Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl to be back at the bottom of the barrel searching for answers.

“When things started to go bad,” Frost said, “it kind of crumbled on them.”

So the Knights have turned to the 41-year-old Frost — a former college quarterback at Stanford and Nebraska and offensive coordinator at Oregon — to start picking up the pieces.

He might not have all the answers yet as he prepares to make his head coaching debut against South Carolina State, but after the school’s third winless season since 1979, Frost knows has nowhere to go but up.

“Our guys were hungry for a new direction,” Frost said. “They were excited for a new way of doing things and excited for the future. They’ve given us absolutely every ounce of effort they could possibly give us in the offseason.”

In just nine short months, Frost made drastic changes on both sides of the ball.

He implemented a read-option offense — similar to what he fielded at Oregon — and has shifted to a 3-4 base defense.

He hauled in the second-best recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference.

And most importantly, Frost said, the team’s confidence is starting to rise again.

“Our players dove in to something new and they’ve embraced it,” Frost said. “They love it. We’re a family now. Everybody’s having fun. A lot of those things are new for a lot of our kids in our program, and I think that’s going to go a long way toward our success.”

The offense is young. Its top playmaker is redshirt sophomore receiver Tre’Quan Smith, who led the Knights with a program freshman record 724 yards on 52 catches en route to being named the American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year.

Jordan Akins will provide depth in the passing game after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, and sophomore running back Taj McGowan looks to improve on a freshman season where he started three games after injuries took a toll at the position.

On defense, Frost said he’s hoping experience will help the Knights improve on just about every facet of its game — UCF finished 114th in the 128-team Football Bowl Subdivision in average total yards allowed (464.1), 116th in total turnovers gained (13) and 123rd in opponent third-down conversion rate (47.46 percent).

Redshirt junior linebacker Chequan Burkett (56 tackles, 6.5 for loss), junior defensive lineman Jamiyus Pittman (team-best 4.5 sacks) will lead the pass rush, while senior defensive back Shaquill Griffin (team-best 13 pass breakups) is expected to anchor the secondary.

“There’s more talent on this team than the record showed,” Frost said. “We’ve got quite a few good football players coming back for us.”

It won’t be an easy road — the Knights go to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in Week 2 and play consecutive conference games against Temple, UConn, Houston and Cincinnati in the heart of its schedule.

But Frost knows this is just the beginning.

“We have a lot of work to do at UCF,” Frost said, “but I think a lot of it has been done and I think the potential at UCF is absolutely unlimited.”

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