Equipped with one of the strongest backfields in the country and a dual-threat starting quarterback from the SEC who has played for the team for three years, UCF coach Gus Malzahn believes his team is well-equipped to storm up the Big 12 rankings in its second year.

And with the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams this fall, the path has never been clearer for the Knights on their way to the national championship.

“Obviously our goal is to win the league,” Malzahn told reporters Wednesday after his Big 12 news conference at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. “Probably the top two (teams), possibly three, have a chance to be in the top 12. This has been a long time coming and should have happened a long time ago.”

Star from the mainland signs with the Knights: ESPN 300 defensive tackle Christian Hudson commits to UCF football

Clearer should of course not be confused with simpler.

UCF waited until November to record a conference win in its debut season in the Big 12. It salvaged an 0-5 start with three wins in its final four games to earn bowl eligibility – a feat that fellow newcomers BYU, Cincinnati and Houston failed to accomplish. The Knights finished eighth in the conference's preseason media poll last week, while five teams (Utah, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Arizona) received first-place votes.

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark has called his league the “deepest” in the country when it comes to football, and the fast-paced September showdowns with TCU and Colorado should serve as a gauge of whether the Knights will perish or survive.

This will all happen in due course. Right now we are still in the middle of the “talking season”.

Here are some UCF notes from Big 12 media day.

RJ Harvey named top 100 player in EA Sports College Football 25

EA Sports released the 100 highest-rated players for its upcoming video game “College Football 25” on Wednesday morning, and UCF Bellcow running back RJ Harvey made the prestigious list.

Harvey received an overall rating of 91 from the game's developers, ranking him as the eighth-best running back in the game, along with Boise State's Ashton Jeanty, Miami's Damien Martinez, Michigan's Donovan Edwards and Penn State's Nicholas Singleton. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound fifth-year senior received outstanding ratings for speed (92), acceleration (92) and awareness (93).

Harvey, who was named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back last season, rushed for a career-high 1,416 yards – sixth-most in the FBS – and scored 16 touchdowns, the second-most in a single season in program history.

Fifteen players from Big 12 programs made the top 100, led by Oklahoma State running back Ollie Gordon, Arizona wide receiver Tetairoa McMillian and Colorado passing duo Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter.

Deion Sanders pays tribute to Gus Malzahn in his opening speech

At the start of the second day of press conferences, Colorado coach Deion Sanders spoke glowingly about UCF coach Gus Malzahn in his opening remarks. The Hall of Fame cornerback said Malzahn recruited his son, Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders, during his tenure at Auburn.

“Coach Malzahn … just ran into him. I just want to highlight a few coaches because they've been so kind, considerate and wonderful to me,” Sanders said. “He recruited Shedeur right out of high school, and I remember being there at Auburn. Since then, he's just been the same, consistent guy. He's phenomenal.”

Shedeur Sanders was a widely regarded four-star recruit in the 2021 cycle out of Cedar Hill (Texas) Trinity Christian and eventually signed with Jackson State during Deion's tenure as the Tigers' head coach. He transferred to Colorado with two years of eligibility remaining and threw for 3,230 yards, 27 touchdowns and four interceptions last year to earn Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year honors.

Colorado returns to the Big 12 after a 13-year stint in the Pac-12 and visits UCF on Sept. 28 – the Knights' first home game in the conference and the first head-to-head meeting between the two schools.

KJ Jefferson motivated by Skip Bayless' praise for Shedeur Sanders

Speaking of Shedeur Sanders, Fox Sports commentator Skip Bayless has said this many times recently: “He's not only the best quarterback in the Big 12 Conference, he's the best quarterback in the country.” That caught the attention of UCF quarterback KJ Jefferson, who printed out Bayless' remarks and taped them to his locker.

“We're kind of under the radar right now,” Jefferson said on the Sons of UCF podcast. “We just have this fire in our approach and our mentality that we bring every day when we walk into this building. We have a whole different mindset of grinding through it and being tough. When it's time to showcase our talent, we can do that.”

Jefferson told ESPNU later in the day that he hopes his passion for football and competitive spirit will be “contagious” to his new teammates. In 36 games for Arkansas, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound player threw for 7,911 yards, ran for 1,876 yards and scored 88 touchdowns.

“Physically, he's the closest thing I've ever had to Cam (Newton) in my life,” Malzahn said. “When he walked into the portal, he was our guy.”

Deshawn Pace: No “hard feelings” towards former team Cincinnati

Deshawn Pace, one of three new recruits to UCF from longtime conference rival Cincinnati, participated in Big 12 media day for the second consecutive year – a sign of the “new age of college football,” Malzahn said of the hybrid safety/linebacker speaking to the media with various teams.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Pace's departure was not voluntary, as the Bearcats' coaching staff wanted to part ways with him and several other players. Despite leading the team with 80 tackles and 11 TFLs, Pace was suspended for the team's game against Oklahoma for a “violation of team rules.”

Defensive back Bryon Threats and running back Myles Montgomery also joined the Knights through the portal.

“I've already planned on playing the game, but I have no hard feelings,” Pace told the Enquirer. “I love my guys over there. I have no hard feelings at all.”

Shaquem Griffin and Tacko Fall named to first Big 12 Alumni Council

UCF icons Shaquem Griffin (football) and Tacko Fall (basketball) were among 32 former college athletes named to the Big 12's first Alumni Council, which was created to “leverage the experience and expertise of some of the conference's most notable former student-athletes as we enter a new era,” according to a conference press release.

Griffin posted on his X account, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday: “I am blessed to continue to represent the best school in the country @UCFKnights. It only goes up from here and (we) are just getting started.”

The alumni will offer advice and insight on topics such as branding, athlete relations, storytelling and digital content. The council, led by Yormark and Vice President of Communications and Strategy Clark Williams, will begin work in August when the league officially grows to 16 member schools after adding Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah from the Pac-12.

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