At this time last year, Scott Frost was entering his first game as the head coach of the UCF football team, which always presents its fair share of challenges. In Thursday’s opener, the Knights’ head coach will have a leg up on FIU’s Butch Davis, who in 2017 is set to coach his first game on the sideline for the Panthers.

Davis is putting the headset back on after taking a six-year hiatus as an analyst for ESPN. FIU is far from Davis’ first coaching gig. The 37-year veteran has won a national title at Miami and two Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys as an assistant. Davis’ resume features stops at Miami, North Carolina and the Cleveland Browns. With the latter, he coached a former Nebraska standout by the name of Scott Frost during the 2001 season.

“I was there for 13 weeks and then went up to Green Bay,” Frost said. “It was a very tightly run organization. I didn’t get to know Butch very well when I was there, but I did get a chance to play under him. He’s had a great career, and I’m sure he’ll have his guys ready this weekend.”

Davis is attempting to rebuild an FIU program that won just 17 games over the last five seasons, a task Frost faced entering the 2016 campaign. Frost and his staff inherited a program that ranked 113th in total defense, 115th in takeaways and 127th in offense. A year later, the Knights finished 2016 with one of the top defenses in the nation – 39th in total defense, 18th in takeaways and ninth in tackles for loss.

Having gone through another set of spring practices and a second preseason camp, Frost believes that his team is in a much better place than they were last year.

“There’s a bunch of things that are different,” Frost said. “First of all, I have to give credit to our strength coach Zach Duval and his staff. Our team looks different. We noticed that right away when we got out on the field for camp. We’re bigger, stronger and faster than what we were in December. The team is a lot tighter nit. The guys are hanging out with one another and doing all sorts of things together. We were missing that a little bit last year, and that comradery will take us a long way.”

Even though the Knights are more prepared, the Panthers will throw a new set of challenges with a new staff. FIU returns five All-Conference USA selections, including Second Team linebacker Anthony Wint. Quarterback Alex McGough averaged 210 passing yards per game last season with 13 touchdowns. Running back Alex Gardner found the end zone six times on the year and ran for 77 yards per game.

“These guys are new coaches,” Frost said. “We’re doing the best we can to figure out what they’re going to be running. The players will have to be ready to adjust to anything. They could come out and run something completely different than what we were expecting. Usually, our offense and defense accounts for any kind of new look, but we might have to make some adjustments in the first and second quarters.”

The challenges for opponents of facing a first-year head coach was something that Frost exploited during the 2016 campaign. The Knights opened the season 6-4, topping 250 yards of offense in nine of the opening 10 games. Defensively, UCF climbed up to sixth in the country in takeaways, while allowing just 21.7 points per game during that stretch.

The Black and Gold finished the year with a bid to the AutoNation CureBowl, becoming just the eighth team to reach a bowl game following a winless season. Shaquem Griffin was also named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

“We had a good bounce-back year, but nobody was satisfied with what we accomplished,” Frost said. “The guys want more. This group is capable of accomplishing more. The whole group went to work in the offseason. The work they did in the weight room and conditioning is showing up in the speed and strength of our players. That will give us more depth and help us play better in the fourth quarter. Everyone understands their role better, including me. There’s fewer problems. There’s fewer fires that you have to put out. Everyone falls into their role and gets a little better at their job, from the head coach to the last man on the roster.”

Fast forward to a new year and a new team, UCF will look for an even better start out of the gates in 2017. A veteran front seven, touted as one of the toughest in the nation, a quarterback in his second year as a starter, an upperclassman-based offensive line, playmakers all over the field, and a higher degree of team unity will guide the Black and Gold through a new series of challenges in year two of the Scott Frost era.