UCF stands out among the Big 12’s four new members, with quarterback John Rhys Plumlee leading a formidable offensive line-up. The team boasts multiple weapon options, including RJ Harvey at running back and receivers Javon Baker and Kobe Hudson. To further boost their offense, Coach Gus Malzahn has recruited from the portal, adding Demarkcus Bowman (Florida), Trent Whittemore (Florida), Corey Gammage (Marshall), and Chauncey Magwood (Kentucky). The Knights’ defense, under the leadership of new defensive signal-caller Addison Williams, benefits from six returning players, presenting a solid line with Ricky Barber, Josh Celiscar, and Tre’Mon Morris-Brash.
Yet, UCF also faces challenges, with three new starting members of the line expected to have an immediate impact. The play-calling switch to Darin Hinshaw also brings unknown changes that may affect productivity.
Houston has shown great potential in the past, despite last year’s slightly underwhelming 8-5 record. Coach Dana Holgorsen’s team was just a year removed from a 12-win season and an AAC Championship bid. Transfer quarterback Donovan Smith (Texas Tech) looks promising in Holgorsen’s offense, and the Cougars’ receiving corps, led by Matthew Golden, Samuel Brown, and Joseph Manjack, is predicted to dominate.
However, Houston’s entry into a more challenging conference post an 8-5 season raises question marks. Houston will face five of Athlon’s projected top seven teams in the Big 12 as well the formidable UTSA outside of conference play. While the addition of West Virginia transfer Tony Mathis aids at running back, the loss of McCaskill IV is significant. Smith’s transition and a restructuring offensive line also pose potential concerns.
Cincinnati’s impressive record since 2018 may lend them an edge. Their formidable defense has consistently dominated the AAC in fewest points allowed, and they return six players, including preseason All-American Dontay Corleone. Despite having only one returning offensive starter under new coach Scott Satterfield, a series of transfers may rejuvenate the team.
Satterfield’s questionable appointment, however, and the extensive roster changes, cast doubt over Cincinnati’s performance. Emory Jones, the transfer at quarterback has a mixed record, and the speed at which the offensive line and receivers can gel will be crucial to their success.