NEWPORT, R.I. — New Central Florida football coach Josh Heupel is using the Eagles, and specifically coach Doug Pederson, as a guide to help his team prepare to defend a championship.
After serving two seasons as Missouri's offensive coordinator, Heupel was hired to replace Scott Frost, who is now the head coach of Nebraska after leading the UCF to a 13-0 record and the American Athletic Conference championship. During the spring, Heupel played a clip of Pederson talking to the Eagles after they returned to the NovaCare Complex to prepare for the 2018 season.
"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 Tuesday's 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," defending a championship.
Heupel says he is an admirer of Pederson.
"I was in Green Bay with Doug a little bit, know him very little, but I have a great appreciation for his career and what he has done and his climb in the NFL coaching rankings," Heupel said. "I thought it was important for our players to hear what he had to say."
Heupel, a Heisman runner-up quarterback at Oklahoma, met Pederson in 2002. That season, Heupel spent a brief time with the Packers. Pederson was a backup quarterback with the Packers from 2001-04.
Despite the loss of Frost and many key players, UCF was picked in the media poll to repeat as both East Division and overall AAC champion. (Temple, which is in UCF's division, was picked to finish third.)
UCF's McKenzie Milton, a junior quarterback and a viable Heisman candidate, said Pederson's words benefited the Knights.
"It was big," said Milton, who threw a school-record 37 touchdown passes in earning AAC offensive-player-of-the-year honors last season. "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."
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Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver ended the speculation before it began when he announced that he will head to the NFL after his junior season this year.
The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Oliver is considered a potential top-five draft choice. Last season, he became the first underclassman to win the Outland Trophy, given to the country's best lineman. In two seasons, he has 39 1/2 tackles for losses.
In early March, Oliver announced his NFL intentions with his teammates in mind.
"I had to keep it real with these guys [his teammates] and I didn't want them to have speculation," Oliver said. "I didn't want people to ask them, 'Do you think Ed will leave?' "
So now there are no questions, other than: Can anybody block the reigning AAC defensive player of the year?
The AAC is the only conference in the country that has its offensive, defensive and special-teams players of the year returning. Besides Milton and Oliver, Memphis running back Tony Pollard, the two-time AAC special-teams player of the year, is back.