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Two years removed from the most successful season in school history, which culminated in a Fiesta Bowl win and a nine-win campaign last year, the UCF football team will try to make a run for its third-straight conference title this year.

"We will be a solid football team, there's no question about that," head coach George O'Leary said at UCF's Downtown Huddle last Wednesday.

The quarterback question loomed after Blake Bortles was taken third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. That allowed Pete DiNovo to become the first freshman to start a season opener since Daunte Culpepper in 1995.

DiNovo was eventually replaced by Justin Holman during the 26-24 loss to Penn State in Ireland and converted into a wide receiver for the Knights.

Holman kept the starting job for the remainder of the season and passed for 2,952 yards and a 57 percent completion rate, while amassing 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also ran for three scores and was selected as the team's Outstanding Offensive Player at the annual awards banquet.

Now a junior with an entire starting season under his belt, the coaching staff only expects improvements from Holman.

One thing Holman will have to adjust to will be a new crop of receivers as the top five leading receivers from last season have moved on from UCF. Sophomore Jordan Akins returns to the team as the leading receiver from a season ago with 12 catches and no scores.

Three freshmen wide receivers on the Knights' roster will likely be leaned on this fall. One thing that shouldn't require too much experience is something that the UCF coaching staff works hard on: receiver's blocking.

"As I tell our receivers all the time, if you want to catch the ball, then block somebody," O'Leary said.

The blocking game helps running backs get out of the backfield easier. With Will Stanback and Dontravious Wilson returning, the Knights' rushing game looks to provide a heaping helping of scoring. Along with Holman, the three accounted for 16 of 19 rushing touchdowns last season.

A seasoned offensive line will help provide gaps to run through as well.

One area that O'Leary and his coaching staff expect to be very strong is the front four defensive lineman. Thomas Niles, Luke Adams and Demetris Anderson are three, and each started in a double-digit number of games last season.

The coaching staff will rely heavily on their experience up front to teach the ropes to less-seasoned players.

Although there are only 11 seniors on the roster, O'Leary thinks the team has a good mix of experience going forward.

"I like the combination and chemistry of what we have coming back," he said. "The right combinations, the right guys that lead and control and make sure to get that message to the younger players."

UCF's four leading tacklers from a year ago all graduated. Terrance Plummer, who led UCF in tackles the past two seasons while coming in second three years ago, and Clayton Geathers, who had been second in tackles three straight seasons, leave big shoes to fill.

UCF will report to camp Aug. 4, and hold its first scrimmage Aug. 22. Open to the public, the game will give fans a peek at the new-look-Knights' new look. The season kicks off Sept. 3 when UCF hosts Florida International University.

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Colin Bell is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at colinb@knights.ucf.edu.

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