3 Biggest Questions Facing UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn Ahead of Big 12 Media Days

    After their inaugural Big 12 season included six in-conference losses, what are the biggest questions facing Gus Malzahn at Big 12 media days?

    UCF did not experience a Big 12 win until November after the team dropped each of its first five conference games in 2023. It was the Knights’ longest losing streak since hiring Gus Malzahn prior to the 2021 season.

    UCF recovered to win three of their final four conference games, including a 45-3 thumping of 15th-ranked Oklahoma State at home, as they look to carry that momentum forward into Year 2 in the Big 12. Before taking to the field in August, what are some of the biggest questions facing Malzahn at Big 12 Media Days?

    Three Most Significant Questions for Gus Malzahn at Big 12 Media Days

    1) Is KJ Jefferson a Big 12 Player of the Year Candidate?

    QB KJ Jefferson should start the season under center when the Knights open against New Hampshire on August 29.

    He arrives in Orlando after five seasons at Arkansas, where he leaves as the program’s career record holder for passing yards (7,911) and passing touchdowns (67). He was the only SEC quarterback to pass for at least 2,000 yards in each of the past three seasons.

    Speaking of the SEC, Jefferson’s experience playing at that level was something his coach pointed to earlier this spring.

    “He’s a veteran guy, and he’s played a lot of football — a lot of successful football,” Malzahn said. “He’s come in, and he’s gotten to know his teammates, and he’s worked outside of what we’ve what we’re doing, and he’s got a really good skill set for what we like to do.”

    While the Knights offense ranked second behind only Oklahoma in the conference with 487.0 yards per game, they also ranked 12th in pass completions per game (17.6).

    2) Does RJ Harvey Have Another Level?

    RB RJ Harvey sent shockwaves across Orlando this offseason when he decided to return for another season with UCF. He is coming off a career season in which he ran for 1,416 yards and added 16 touchdowns on the ground en route to being named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award.

    His season included five multi-touchdown games after he produced just one such game in 2022.

    That level of production raises the expectations for a running back group that also returns fifth-year senior Johnny Richardson (573 rushing yards, TD) and added transfers Myles Montgomery (Cincinnati) and Peny Boone (Toledo) from the portal.

    The Knights averaged 5.6 yards per carry during the 2023 season to lead all Big 12 teams.

    3) Can Defensive Coordinator Ted Rood Make an Immediate Impact?

    UCF opponents averaged 194.3 yards per game on the ground last season, the worst mark in the Big 12. If the Knights want to contend for the conference championship, that has to improve.

    Malzahn hired Ted Roof as the team’s new defensive coordinator after he spent the previous two seasons in the same capacity with Oklahoma. Roof was a member of the defensive staff Malzahn had in 2010 at Auburn when they won the national championship.

    In 2023, the Sooners ranked third nationally in takeaways per game (2.0), seventh in tackles for loss per game (7.54), and 14th in third-down defense.

    UCF allowed 40.6 points per game in their first five Big 12 contests last season before lowering that number to 16.5 points per game over their final four conference games.

    2024 Big 12 Media Days Schedule: Gus Malzahn, UCF Head Coach

    • Date: Wednesday, July 10
    • Time: 3:20 p.m. ET
    • How to Watch: ESPN+

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