ORLANDO — It was the first question asked.
Reporters and other media professionals gathered at Bright House Networks Stadium this past Friday for UCF Football’s annual media day. When head coach George O’Leary opened up his press conference to questions the very first question asked was whether a starter had been determined at the quarterback position —and rightly so.
For a team coming off the greatest season in its history, with a Top-10 finish in the polls and an upset-victory in the Fiesta Bowl over Baylor to its credit, keeping positive momentum that it accumulated will be pivotal.
Considering that the quarterback who led the Knights to the promised land a season ago, Blake Bortles, is busy taking snaps at training camp for the Jacksonville Jaguars, determining his successor has become one of the top items on O’Leary’s to-do list.
The Knights open the season against Penn State on Aug. 30 in Dublin, Ireland, and though the veteran coach hasn’t settled on a name yet, he acknowledged the importance of settling on one soon at Friday’s press conference.
“It’s going to shake itself out — they’ve all had their good time and bad times [since practice started],” O’Leary said . “We just need that kid that can move the chains. …
“I won’t take it very long — we’ll name one [soon] because I think you need that from a chemistry standpoint.”
As it stands now, the position battle to be UCF’s signal caller is wide open with four quarterbacks in the running.
One of them is a familiar face to prep football fans here in West Orange County — former Dr. Phillips star Nick Patti.
Patti went to Boise State after concluding his career with the Panthers but transferred to the Knights following the 2013 season. The NCAA waived the rule that typically requires a transfer to sit out a season for Patti, per a report by the Orlando Sentinel, for “personal reasons” back in April.
The Dr. Philllips alumnus, a redshirt sophomore this upcoming season, joins true freshman Tyler Harris, sophomore Justin Holman and redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo in the competition for the starting gig.
Patti was highly regarded out of high school, a fact evident in his being recruiting to lead the high-powered Bronco’s offense.
The former Panther’s competition will be steep, though, with Holman and DiNovo both having played within the Knights’ system last season. Holman was Bortles’ back-up in 2013 and DiNovo led UCF’s scout team.
While one Dr. Phillips alumnus is battling for a starting job with the Knights, another finds himself in the discussion for some national awards. Shawn Moffitt, UCF’s placekicker, has been named to watch lists for the Lou Groza Award and for the College Football Performance Awards Placekickers Trophy.
Moffitt, whose strong performance in 2013 was an important part of the Knights’ remarkable run, said the recognition is just more motivation to succeed.
“To me, it honestly means you’ve got to live up to expectations,” Moffitt said.
Expectations are high across the board around UCF’s fall camp. Whether they will admit it publically or not, the Knights are likely bothered by their absence from the first Top 25 poll (UCF weighed in at No. 28, unofficially), especially when Baylor came in at No. 10.
There are likely several factors playing into the Knights dropping 18 spots from their No. 10 ranking at the end of this past season, with the departure of Bortles and UCF’s playing in a non-power five conference chief among them.
For his part, O’Leary doesn’t seem to care much and noted that the team is returning most of its starters from a season ago.
“We have more depth than we’ve had in the past,” O’Leary said. “It’s just a matter of getting a couple positions straightened out and getting a guy in there [at quarterback] who can make things happen for us.”