SMU falls short to No. 15 UCF 17-13 on frigid day

SMU receiver Keenan Holman figures the warm-weather foes from

UCF didn’t have to adjust to a bitterly cold day any more than his

Mustangs.

It was just plain frigid for both teams, and the Knights found a

way to persevere.

Blake Bortles threw for 242 yards and ran for two touchdowns,

and No. 15 UCF celebrated a BCS bid already in hand by adding the

outright American Athletic Conference title to the mix. The 17-13

victory Saturday came in front of just a few hundred fans who

braved the slick roads of a nasty ice storm.

”It’s 20 degree weather,” said Holman, who scored SMU’s only

touchdown. ”Unless you live in Green Bay, you ain’t ready for

this. I feel like both teams were on an even playing field.”

The Knights were a little sluggish early but said it had nothing

to do with the school’s first sub-freezing game.

”My hand got a little dry and that might explain a couple of

errant throws,” said Bortles, who put UCF ahead for the first time

on a 15-yard scramble to a touchdown that ended up being the final

points late in the third quarter. ”But no excuses. Weather really

didn’t have much of an impact on me.”

Surrounded by piles of ice cleared from the field in a scene

more suitable for Green Bay or Denver and with completely empty

stands behind their bench, the Knights (11-1, 8-0 AAC) set a school

record with their eighth straight win.

UCF wrapped up the conference’s automatic BCS bid when

Louisville beat Cincinnati on Thursday. This is the school’s second

11-win season, both in the past four seasons, in the program’s

34-year history.

The Knights, who went 11-3 in 2010 and beat Georgia in the

Liberty Bowl, passed around the conference championship trophy in a

much warmer locker room while the Mustangs held senior day

ceremonies on the frigid field after the game.

”Everybody’s excited,” UCF safety Brandon Alexander said. ”A

lot of people haven’t won a championship, me being one of

them.”

SMU (5-7, 4-4) saw its record bowl streak end at four seasons in

the coldest home game in school history – 24 degrees at kickoff. It

matched the 1983 Sun Bowl in El Paso as SMU’s coldest game.

Neal Burcham had 222 yards passing for the Mustangs and a

30-yard touchdown to Holman, who led all receivers with 91

yards.

”For me not to be playing in a bowl game with these guys, it’s

hurtful,” said Holman, a senior. ”I’m going to miss a lot of

these guys.”

The wintry blast that virtually shut down the Dallas-Fort Worth

area on Friday prompted officials to offer free admission. It

didn’t help much, with fewer than 1,000 fans showing up for the

game – far short of the announced attendance of 12,598.

The crowd stood throughout, but mostly because it was warmer

that way. The east side of SMU’s campus stadium behind the UCF

bench was empty.

There were a few UCF fans on the home side, and they were happy

when Bortles scrambled around left end and beat everyone to the

pylon to put the Knights up 17-13 late in the third quarter.

SMU twice failed on fourth down in UCF territory in the fourth

quarter. Redshirt freshman Neal Burcham, making his second straight

start for injured senior Garrett Gilbert, was stuffed and sustained

an apparent head injury on fourth-and-1 with 8:22 remaining.

Garrett Krstich replaced him on the next drive and threw

incomplete deep on his first play. Two snaps later, Clayton

Geathers made a diving interception, but Central Florida’s Shawn

Moffitt hit the upright on a 24-yard field that would have put the

Knights up by a touchdown.

Krstich still couldn’t move the Mustangs. He was forced to

scramble on fourth-and-14 and came up well short with 59 seconds

left. The Mustangs finished with their first losing record under

coach June Jones since he went 1-11 after taking over the moribund

program in 2008.

”It’s disappointing that we will not be in a bowl game,” Jones

said. ”We have to try to put it behind us, get the recruiting

season started as we have all our commits pretty much lined up for

next year.”