Today we welcome Orlando Sentinel sportswriter Iliana Limón to the site to preview this week's game between Boston College and Central Florida. Iliana writes for the Sentinel's Knights Notepad Blog, easily your best source for information on the UCF Knights. You can also follow Iliana on Twitter at @osknights.
BC Interruption: The Knights pounded Charleston Southern in week 1 to the tune of 62-0, behind three Jeffrey Godfrey rushing touchdowns and a team record eight in total. How much did UCF fans learn about the offense playing against a weaker Big South program?
Iliana Limón: I think UCF fans were pleased to see the Knights shut out Charleston Southern, score with ease and play a lot of the reserves who needed game-day experience. However, I think most people understand it's tough to really evaluate the team based on the game. The sheer physical mismatch offset some mistakes and baited players into taking chances they wouldn't normally take against a bigger, stronger and faster team. Bottom line, UCF fans will know a lot more about their team after this week's game.
BCI: UCF had one of the better defenses in the country last season, but return just 4 starters from last year's unit and are replacing former DC Dave Huxtable. How have the Knights reloaded on the defensive side of the ball this season, especially in the front seven?
IL: Current defensive coordinator John Skladany previously worked as UCF's defensive coordinator under current head coach George O'Leary before a brief stint in Houston. Skladany knows the system and the players, so I would be surprised if it wasn't a seamless transition back to Skladany leading the defense this season. UCF lost some really strong leaders on defense who had considerable experience. You don't replace a playmaker like Bruce Miller very easily. However, UCF's defense relies on rolling a lot of players on and off the field. Most of the starters this season had meaningful reps last season in big games, including the Conference USA championship and the Liberty Bowl. You lose Miller, who just refused to give up on plays at defensive end. However, you replace him with faster and stronger athletes. The Knights have five strong defensive ends who can put pressure on the quarterback. The team has a solid base of defensive tackles. And UCF's secondary includes two first team All-Conference USA performers in Kemal Ishmael and Josh Robinson. The big question entering the season was at linebacker. Senior Josh Linam is the starting middle linebacker, but UCF is relying on some freshmen to operate on the outside. True freshmen Leilon Willingham and Terrance Plummer are talented athletes with great natural instincts, but they will have some growing pains adapting to strong college offenses.
BCI: There are high expectations surrounding this year's UCF team, and the Knights get to make a statement in games against Boston College and BYU. What is the team's and the UCF fan bases' expectations in these two games against high-profile opponents?
IL: UCF fans and players want to win this game. After a successful run last year, the players firmly believe they can beat both BYU and Boston College if they play their best football. They have respect for both opponents and understand it will be a challenge, but they are not intimidated by the matchups.
BCI: The Knights program has a beautiful new on-campus facility in Bright House Networks Stadium yet didn't sell out one home game last year. What is attendance expected to be on Saturday night, and what sort of homefield edge does BHNS give the team?
IL: I would expect a sellout or pretty close to it. When the stadium is about 75 percent full, it's an extremely loud venue. A lot of opposing teams have said the steady noise echoing through the stadium makes it a difficult place to play. I'd expect a pretty hostile environment for Boston College.
BCI: Much has been written about conference realignment / expansion and UCF as a possible candidate for a BCS AQ conference like the Big East. How much is all the rumors and speculation a distraction for this program? How about for the fan base?
IL: After last year's success, the players seem confident and committed to helping the program take another step forward. As far as I can tell, they're only concerned with the expansion factor they can control - winning football games. I don't think it has had any impact on them. The fans, on the other hand, are tired of seeing what they consider to be a strong expansion candidate consistently overlooked. They're frustrated automatic qualifying conferences don't want to invest in a school that could quickly become a huge moneymaker. They also recognize their best shot right now is a successful football season, so they're extremely anxious to see the football team perform well on the field.
BCI: Last one. What is this UCF team's one weakness? What has to go right this Saturday night for BC to pull out a victory in Orlando?
IL: I think there are three areas of concern entering the game. The biggest difference between UCF and Boston College the last time the two teams played was the overwhelming size and strength of BC's offensive and defensive lines. UCF's recruiting classes have improved considerably and it looks like the Knights have the depth and power needed to compete against a hard-nosed team, but we won't know for sure until game day. UCF's linebackers, as previously mentioned, are inexperienced and could make some costly mistakes. And UCF's receivers also are relatively inexperienced. I imagine Boston College will stack the box to stop the run and force the Knights to throw the ball. UCF receivers' ability to make plays is going to be pretty important.