Last season the whole narrative changed. It was no longer "D-I Speed" or "SEC Speed". It was UCF Speed -- or, as they called it, "UCFast".
Under head coach Scott Frost, the Knights took the college football world by surprise so fast (literally) that no one could beat them by the time 2017 came to a close. Much of that can be credited to the work their coaching staff did with the slept-on playmakers on the roster, especially in the passing game.
There was wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith, who finished the season with 1,171 yards for a 19.8 yards-per-catch average and was drafted in the third round by the New Orleans Saints. There was tight end Jordan Akins, who finished his final year with 515 yards receiving and a 16.1 yards-per-catch average. He was also drafted in the third round, but to the Houston Texans. And, of course, there was quarterback McKenzie Milton, who recorded more than 4,000 passing yards with a 67.1 completion percentage and 613 rushing yards to boot.
Milton didn't get drafted last season because he wasn't in the draft. 2018 will be his first year of eligibility, and whether or not he'll declare may hinge on the answer to the question: can Milton still thrive at UCF with Frost as his head coach and play caller?
Frost moved on from UCF to be the head coach at Nebraska. As his replacement, the school hired Josh Heupel. Heupel is a former quarterback who played his college ball at Oklahoma and was the runner-up Heisman Trophy winner in 2000 under OU's offensive coordinator Mike Leach's offense.
Knowing that as his roots, you would figure this is a guy who will probably try to keep UCF's high-tempo offense in tact in Life After Frost. According to Milton and others, Heupel's offense might be even faster.
“I think we’re a little faster than last year,” Milton said.
“Practice is way faster, I’m not going to lie,” junior linebacker Nate Evans told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel. “As soon as you turn around from making a play they are back up there getting a new call and lining up. It is way faster than last year for me personally."
Faster? Is that a thing? I guess time will tell there.
Milton isn't very alluring when it comes to the eye test. He's 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, and those numbers would certainly put him in the bottom five percentile of current NFL quarterbacks. But it's hard to argue with his success, especially as of late. According to things we've heard out of UCF's camp this offseason, Heupel's offense is poised to bring more eye-popping numbers for Milton in 2018.
“I am very excited about what (Heupel) is bringing in,” UCF running back Greg McCrae said. “Its more of a vertical run game, vertical offense in general. His offensive scheme is great.”
UCF is even going outside the campus limits to find their inspiration to play even better and more focused coming off the successful season they had. One example Heupel has used is Eagles head coach Doug Peterson. He recently showed his team the video of Peterson addressing his team talking about what it would take to compete and repeat with the target now on their back.
“It was on YouTube, I think, and it was Doug talking about how last year was great and [the Eagles] are going to compete for championships year in and year out and this is the new normal here, but at the same time, it is about our work and progress moving forward,” Heupel said during AAC football media day. “I think it was good for our team to hear another voice of a head coach who is coming back in the same situation.”
“It was big,” said Milton. “Doug Pederson is one of the best coaches in the NFL, and the way he was talking to his team is the way our coaches talk to us. He is preaching the same thing at that level, and if it works at that level, it will work for us.”
As for Milton, it seems the system and the ceiling is high enough for him to continue his success as a quarterback in Life After Frost at UCF. When it comes to the NFL, Milton is never going to be the traditional Pro Style quarterback the next level traditionally covets. His shot put style throwing motion is certainly unorthodox, and his feet might make some coaches want to pull their hair out.
But with the success of guys like Baker Mayfield, Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor and Colin Kaepernick, there is a formula for speed and even a few odd characteristics to work as a quarterback -- if you can be smart enough and if you have the arm to get it done in structure as much as out of it. However, as the names previously listed tell you, it takes a special quarterback to execute that combination in the NFL.
Heupel thinks he has a special one in Milton.
“You get a chance to be around him and you see the way he competes,” Heupel said. “In the meeting room, he’s extremely smart and bright and picks up the nuances of what you’re doing really quickly. He challenges himself and competes within himself on every snap and every single day on the football field.”