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UCF Knights to Lean on Running Backs, Transfer Class in 2024


UCF Knights
© Mike Watters/USA TODAY SPORTS

The UCF Knights had a fairly disappointing Big 12 Conference debut, winning just three conference games and losing the Gasparilla Bowl to Georgia Tech 17-30. Injuries to quarterback John Rhys Plumlee and others plagued the team, and now with Rhys Plumlee and a host of others gone, the UCF staff was galvanized to hit the transfer portal as well as make some major changes. Changes that have things looking up for the Knights. Changes that could propel UCF into conference title contention.


Let's talk about how UCF could be a surprise contender in the Big 12 and what it will take to get the Knights to the promised land.


Thoroughbred Stable of Running Backs

The Knights have gone through some major changes, but one thing that has remained the same is the backfield strength, with workhorse RJ Harvey returning for 2024. Harvey will not be alone though, as the UCF staff has given him plenty of assistance. The big splash in the running back room was obviously Harvey making his return, but the Knights have added a ton of production and young potential via the portal and their high school recruiting class.


UCF Knights
© Annie Rice/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Knights have a solid group of freshman running backs in the 2024 class. Stacy Gage and Frankie Arthur both have signed their letters of intent to play for UCF and will develop well under the guidance of Harvey, the transfer backs, of whom will be talked about later, and running backs coach Tim Harris Jr., who returns to the Knights after a stint at Miami.


Gage was the 30th ranked running back in the country while Arthur was the 18th, per 247sports.com. Both are four-star recruits that will provide continuity in the room once Harvey and company move on, as the running back room, while very experienced, has little eligibility remaining.


Now to the transfers. Toledo and Louisville transfer Peny Boone has decided to take his talents to Orlando. The incoming senior accounted for more than 1,600 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Rockets last year, making him one of the most coveted players in the portal. He will pair very well with Harvey and create a one-two punch that could pulverize Big 12 defenses. Cincinnati transfer Myles Montgomery will also provide some added assistance. The incoming junior back rushed for 429 yards and 3 touchdowns behind Corey Kiner, one of the nation's most underrated backs.



This running back room will be perhaps the biggest strength on this UCF team. The experience and production that permeates through this position group will boost an offense that was already ranked No. 8 in total offense last year and has this group ranked among the top position groups in the nation. The Knights' success will hinge heavily on the numbers this room will be able to produce, if all goes well, we could see a UCF offense that ranks in the top five or better.


Portal Presence

Not only did the running back room benefit heavily from the portal, the entire UCF team got a huge boost from a fantastic transfer class. The No. 22-ranked transfer class in the nation features players that were big-time producers at their previous programs. The aforementioned Boone is one of the headliners, but this class also includes a pair of quarterbacks, a host of defensive help and some receivers that will prove to be key targets for whoever comes out on top in the highly anticipated QB battle.



Starting with the quarterbacks, UCF has a decision to make regarding their starter for Week 1. Timmy McClain left for Arkansas State, but for good reason. There is a ton of talent and production coming in that would give McClain a major run for his money. Former Arkansas signal-caller KJ Jefferson was the first QB to commit to the Knights. Jefferson, a seventh-year player, has thrown for more than 7,000 yards and 67 touchdowns throughout his college career.


He wasn't the only quarterback to commit to the Knights though, as Miami transfer Jacurri Brown decided to head north to Orlando on April 29. Brown played in just one game for the Hurricanes—last year's Pinstripe Bowl loss to Rutgers—but the former four-star high school prospect stands at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and showed promise in that lone game as a big-bodied, dual-threat player. He will certainly give Jefferson a good fight, but as of now Jefferson is the projected starter.



For defensive help, UCF brought in USC transfer cornerback Tre'Quon Fegans, Ohio State safety Cedrick Hawkins, Ole Miss safety Ladarius Tennison, and a host of others to help bolster a defensive backfield that was already ranked No. 25 in the nation in least passing yards allowed and returns a solid amount of production.


It will be incredibly hard to throw against this stacked UCF secondary, but the marquee transfer on the defensive side of the ball is on the defensive line. Four-star transfer Nyjalik Kelly out of Miami brings his talents to Orlando, and while he took a step back last year due to a season-ending injury, he had a huge freshman campaign in 2022 and has shown a ton of promise. He was one of the most highly-touted transfers in 2024, having offers from Georgia, Texas and Michigan.


UCF Knights
© Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SPORTS

Finally, the Knights get some receiving help as well, signing former Ohio receiver Jacoby Jones, Florida State receiver Goldie Lawrence, Michigan State tight end Evan Morris and Eastern Kentucky tight end Reece Adkins. These pass catchers will help offset the loss of stalwart receiver Javon Baker and dependable tight end target Alec Holler as well as boost the No. 41-ranked passing offense in the country last year.


UCF Knights Need to Build Cohesion

UCF will have to lean on their running backs and this transfer class heavily if they expect to be competing for a Big 12 title this season. While there is a lot of promise the Knights will have to help build cohesion among all the new faces as well as develop their run defense that allowed an abysmal 194.3 yards per game last season.


With defensive line and linebacker help coming as well as a secondary that looks to be one of the better units in the conference, defense will hopefully not be a huge worry for UCF. With an offense that was already highly productive last year adding even more experience and production, the sky is the limit for the Knights. They can certainly reach for the stars if they can develop chemistry and a serviceable front seven, and overall, are one of the more overlooked and underrated teams in the country right now.






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