No. 15 UCF focusing on SMU with BCS berth in reach

UCF has two chances this week to punch it’s ticket to a BCS

bowl.

Either a Cincinnati loss to No. 19 Louisville on Thursday night

or victory by the 15th-ranked Knights in their finale against SMU

on Saturday will give UCF (10-1, 7-0) the American Athletic

Conference title and the BCS berth that goes with it.

Coach George O’Leary prefers his team gets there on its own.

”Whatever happens on Thursday night, I don’t want to back into

anything,” O’Leary said. ”I think you want to win it if you have

a chance to be undefeated in conference play. How many teams in the

country can do that this year? … Our concern is playing SMU and

winning the game. That’s why we’re playing. Whatever happens could

be great for us or it doesn’t change anything. ”

For a team that entered the season in the shadow of

American-favorite Louisville, the Knights have fared well in the

national spotlight late in the season while surviving in a series

close games.

The Knights have posted six wins by seven or fewer points this

season, including five in conference play.

The most recent was 23-20 win last week over rival South

Florida.

O’Leary described the performance of his team’s usually

dependable offense ”awful” in a game that featured five UCF

turnovers.

It’s underlined his call for extra focus this week.

”We’re very fortunate to win a game with five turnovers,”

O’Leary said. ”I’ve been in football a long time. I’ve had four

and scraped by. Five? That’s a lot. It shows the resiliency of both

sides of making plays when they had to make it. But again, the

offense’s performance was unacceptable. They were told that.

”We just gotta get back to things that we do and stop worrying

about individual (statistics), which I think was taking place a

little bit.”

While they may not have played a complete game in all three

phases yet, the Knights have to like their chances to claim their

first conference championship since 2010.

The USF game aside, the Knights have won seven straight and have

an offense that ranks second in the league averaging 34.6 points

per game.

SMU (5-6, 4-3) is playing to become bowl eligible, but is coming

off a 34-0 loss to Houston and its defense is giving up a

league-worst 34.8 points per game.

Offensively it ranks third in the conference, averaging more

than 440 yards, but may be without starting quarterback Garrett

Gilbert, who entered the week listed as questionable with a knee

injury.

The Mustangs started freshman Neal Burcham in his place and were

out of sync throughout offensively against Houston.

The task only gets harder against a UCF offense that has been

virtually unflappable late in games behind quarterback Blake

Bortles. Bortles is coming off a three-turnover game against USF,

but ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency (167.3) and has

thrown for 3,038 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2013.

It’s why UCF receiver J.J. Worton said that even when games have

gotten close, the trust in Bortles hasn’t changed.

”No one senses (him) being scared in the huddle,” Worton said.

”We all know what he can do and we all know he’s gonna take us to

where we need to be. And we trust him, we’re just gonna run our

routes and know he’s gonna get the ball there.”

It’s also why senior offensive lineman Justin McCray expects the

Knights to be in exactly the right frame of mind on Saturday,

regardless of if they are already American champions or not before

game time.

”We just keep looking at it like we have the past couple of

weeks. We’ve got a championship game coming up, that’s how it was

last week and the week before,” he said. ”We (have) tunnel vision

to this game. We’re not listening to what anybody else is saying.

We’re just trying to get ready for SMU.”

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