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Heupel explains his year to year decline at UCF

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NCAA Football: Temple at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee is in the middle of kickstarting a new era of football, maybe finally diving into the modern era with an attacking, spread scheme. Josh Heupel will be calling the shots going forward for the Volunteers, bringing his high-octane system to Knoxville.

Josh Heupel’s name wasn’t exactly sitting at the top of the hot boards. If he had continued UCF’s hot run in 2020, maybe he would have been. However, a 10-3 mark in 2019 dropped down to a 6-4 record this season, bringing up some legitimate questions as to whether Heupel was simply riding Scott Frost’s coattails.

In his introductory press conference, Heupel addressed that concern head on.

“All of our games, except for one loss, were one possession games,” Heupel said. “They were really tight ball games. This past year, everyone was dealing with it, COVID was a unique situation in itself in terms of how you brought your football team back. What were their workouts while they were away from you? When did you actually get your entire team back? What did your practice habits look like? For us, we didn’t meet until the fourth game of the season, as far as being in a full team meeting that wasn’t virtual.”

Central Florida dropped games against Tulsa, Memphis and No. 7 Cincinnati in the regular season. Those games were lost by a combined total of 12 points. They then ran into a really good BYU team and were beaten 49-23 to close the season.

Heupel also explained that some key opt-outs affected his final season in Orlando.

“We lost some close ones and at the beginning of the season, I believe we had 10 opt-outs,” Heupel explained. “All of those came because of different reasons and different challenges that they faced in their backgrounds. For some of them it may have been a parent that was ill. Some of them had young children. They had different backgrounds. As the season went along, it wore on. I thought we got thinner as a football team and lost a couple of close ones to some good football teams.”

Scott Frost, another Danny White hire, revitalized the UCF program in 2016, bouncing back from a winless 2015 season under George O’Leary. Frost won six games in 2016, and then went undefeated in the “national championship” season in 2017. Heupel was able to keep that momentum rolling, walking into a program that was already back to winning.

Now the question is — can he build one from the ground up in the toughest conference in the land?