Big 12 News

Gus Malzahn Excited to Join the ‘Deepest’ Conference in College Football

Sep 2, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; UCF Knights head coach Gus Malzahn looks on during warms up before the game against the Boise State Broncos at Bounce House. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

One of the four new additions to the Big 12 Conference, the UCF Knights had an impressive season under Gus Malzahn in 2022. The Knights finished with an overall record of 9-5, good for second place in the AAC. After moving to the Big 12 Conference on July 1st, the Knights have gone on an absolute tear of bringing in top recruits in future classes, and while they have been successful with the 2024 cycle, Malzahn and company will have a tough task ahead in 2023.

In the Knights’ first season in the Big 12, UCF will face each of the last three conference champions in their first four conference games. However, head coach Gus Malzahn is excited about the prospect of joining what he calls the deepest conference in college football.


“Well, first of all, for me personally, I’m very excited,” Malzahn said. “This is a great conference, one of the best football conferences in college football and probably the deepest from top to bottom. So I’m very excited about that.”

As far as the challenge the Big 12 presents for UCF, Malzahn realizes that the step up along the line of scrimmage is where the focus will be for the newcomers.

“As far as challenging, I mean, the great thing is we’ve had over a year, almost a year and a half to get prepared for this moment,” Malzahn said. “And you know, we’re talking about having quality depth when you move up conferences and leagues and specifically on the O-line and D-Line and we’ve worked extremely hard and I really feel like today we are going to fall camp that we do have quality depth on both lines of scrimmage. That was really by design and we really feel good about that. But just the overall excitement of the challenge of playing these great teams in this league is what’s exciting for us.”


Offensively, the Knights return eight starters including their signal caller John Rhys Plumlee and a cast of weapons on the outside. Two of the Knights’ top three receivers returned following 2022 with Javon Baker and Kobe Hudson returning to Orlando. The duo accounted for 95 grabs for 1,437 receiving yards and 12 scores on the season.

Defensively, UCF returns seven starters including one of the best tacklers in the AAC with senior linebacker Jason Johnson. Johnson finished off his 2022 campaign with 129 total tackles including 70 solo tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles. He is joined by hybrid linebacker Tre’Mon Morris-Brash who led the team in sacks with six on the season alongside 53 total tackles and one forced fumble. The duo both earned Second-Team All-AAC honors last year and have their eyes set on earning equivalent honors in the Big 12.

The Knights were semi-active in the transfer portal this offseason and while the team did lose 18 members of last year’s squad, they rebuilt with a combination of three and four-star prospects in the portal. Key additions for the Knights include Oklahoma DL Derrick LeBlanc, FIU DE Shaun Peterson, Marshall WR Corey Gammage, and USF QB Gunnar Smith. While Smith more than likely won’t have an immediate impact as John Rhys Plumlee will be taking snaps at quarterback barring any major changes, the other three additions should see the field early and often.

UCF will begin its 2023 campaign at home against Kent State on August 31st, then the Knights will hit the road to begin the Big 12 slate against Kansas State before taking on the Baylor Bears at home.

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