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UCF football to tackle key questions when preseason camp opens Thursday

UCF wants to send a message that last season's success was no aberration and the Knights can repeat as the American Athletic Conference title winners.

Louisville may be gone, but Cincinnati, Houston and former Conference USA foe East Carolina all could challenge UCF for the AAC title.

And this is the first year of the new College Football Playoff format, making it much tougher though not impossible for UCF to match last year's run to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Knights are set to open preseason camp Thursday. Here are the top five camp storylines to watch as UCF fights to build on last year's success:

1. Quarterback carousel

UCF coach George O'Leary promised to have a quarterback named before spring football ended. That didn't happen.

O'Leary and offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe are working to identify the field leader, taking a close look at sophomore Justin Holman, redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo, redshirt sophomore Nick Patti and freshman Tyler Harris. A decision should be made on the starting quarterback within the first two weeks of camp, but as of now, it's still anyone's role to grab.

Patti, a Dr. Phillips alum, is the biggest question mark for coaches. No one has seen him pressed during a full scrimmage yet because he transferred to UCF from Boise State during the summer.

2. Receivers rotation

Wide receivers coach Sean Beckton called this the best single collection of receivers he's ever seen assembled in UCF football history. The depth of talented receivers this year is impressive and the Knights could see seven players earning spots in the game-day receiver rotation. Rannell Hall and Breshad Perriman were named to the Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list. Redshirt senior Jackie Williams is expected to fill the role vacated by Jeff Godfrey. It will be interesting to see how coaches divide playing time among this committee of receivers that also includes J.J. Worton, Josh Reese, and 22-year-old freshman Jordan Akins.

The Knights have playmakers, but the key will be developing timing with a new quarterback and helping him get the ball to the right spots.

3. O-line chemistry

Much attention was paid to the loss of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, but the loss of experienced linemen Justin and Jordan McCray and Chris Martin could have a big impact as well.

Joey Grant and Torrian Wilson are taking the lead working to create continuity and leadership for this extremely athletic, but somewhat inexperienced line. Offensive line coach Brent Key has asked Wilson to be more vocal in the trenches and Grant will likely have to be even more vocal with the new quarterback. Tarik Cook had a few starts last season and is expected to start alongside tackles Michael Campbell and Chester Brown.

4. Pass-run ratio

This was a storyline to watch last season and remains an intriguing question this season. It's inevitable that UCF will make some changes to its offense with a younger, less experienced quarterback and both O'Leary and Taaffe have emphasized they are looking for a game manager this season who can execute plays.

But will they utilize the spread more with the bevy of receivers on hand or will they lean more heavily on talented sophomore running back Will Stanback? Stanback collected 470 yards on 103 carries as a backup to Johnson in 2013. He'll also get pushed by sophomore running back Dontravious Wilson, who turned in an impressive spring football performance.

5. Secondary is primary

League commissioner Mike Aresco touted the talent of the AAC's receivers this season, so naturally that means UCF's secondary will need to be sharp.

The Knights know what they'll be working with in seniors Clayton Geathers, a strong safety who graduates Aug. 2, and Orlando native Brandon Alexander, a cornerback shifted to free safety this season. Redshirt sophomore Jacoby Glenn should see some time in one of the cornerback positions. O'Leary grew frustrated with the secondary's overall performance during the spring and this will be an area to watch to see who earns key roles.

sjowens@tribune.com

UCF preseason camp

UCF is closing the first week of preseason camp workouts to the public, but fans can watch the Knights prepare for the upcoming season during nine open practices.

When: Aug. 8-15 from 3:20-5:30 p.m.; Aug. 16 from 9:10-11:30 a.m. Practices times are subject to change.

Where: UCF football practice fields adjacent to Bright House Networks Stadium. If there are storms in the area, practices often are moved to the nearby Nicholson Fieldhouse.

Admission: Free

Restrictions: Fans are barred from taking pictures during practice. UCF coaches also ask that fans don't post any formations, injury updates or other details that would put the team at competitive disadvantage on social media or other online outlets.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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