UCF visits SMU with 1st BCS bid already in hand

No. 15 UCF has already secured the school’s first BCS bid. So

the Knights will move on to other things when they finish the

regular season Saturday at SMU.

There’s a chance for the 33-year-old program’s first eight-game

winning streak, and an outright title and undefeated league record

in the first season of the American Athletic Conference.

So there’s that to focus on after UCF (10-1, 7-0 AAC) locked up

the BCS trip thanks to No. 19 Louisville’s 31-24 overtime victory

at Cincinnati on Thursday.

”When you’re doing real good, the easiest thing to do is lose

focus,” said receiver Rannell Hall, who had four long kickoff

returns when the Knights clinched at least tie for the conference

title with a 23-20 win over rival South Florida last week. ”It’s

late in the season, bodies being weak.”

With a loss to SMU, the Knights would tie the Cardinals for the

league title. UCF has the tiebreaker after beating Louisville 38-35

in October.

”I do care that we’re getting ready for SMU as far as winning

the championship outright,” coach George O’Leary said. ”We’ve got

one left and we need to get down to Dallas and get done what we

need to get done.”

SMU (5-6, 4-3) is trying to extend a school-record bowl streak

to five seasons.

”It’s all the motivation,” said quarterback Neal Burcham, a

redshirt freshman who made his first career start last week against

Houston after Garrett Gilbert sprained his left knee. ”We have one

game left, hopefully two games left. We’re going to take this game

as win or go home.”

Five things to consider as the Knights try to win for the fifth

time in six meetings with the Mustangs:

QUARTERBACK QUESTION: Burcham’s first start in Gilbert’s place

was rough. He was 27 of 52 for 212 yards with three interceptions

in 34-0 loss to Houston that was the first shutout loss in June

Jones’ 19 years as a head coach. ”He did what a young quarterback

does,” Jones said. ”He kind of looked like Garrett did the first

time Garrett played last year. Wasn’t anticipating. Wasn’t sure.”

Gilbert’s chances of playing are about 50-50.

MISTAKE-FILLED WIN: The Knights clinched a tie for the

conference title with last week’s 23-20 win over rival South

Florida. They did it despite five turnovers. The victory fit the

profile for UCF, which has seven victories by seven or fewer

points, including five in conference. Bortles’ steady hand even on

a bad day appears to be part of the reason. ”Just the ability to

keep everyone calm in the huddle,” receiver J.J. Worton said.

DO FLORIDIANS HAVE JACKETS? The forecast calls for a high of 27

in Dallas on Saturday, with a wintry mix of snow and ice possible

after the area was blanketed by the frozen stuff and virtually shut

down Friday. Because of the weather, officials opened the game to

anyone who doesn’t have a ticket. The Knights, of course, figure

they’ll just get used to it during warmups before the game. At

least one opposing player isn’t so sure. ”It’s nothing we haven’t

seen before here,” SMU linebacker Kevin Pope. ”If anything, I

feel sorry for UCF because they’re used to the heat. I think

they’re going to be pretty cold.”

GOING OLD SCHOOL: SMU’s Pope had to play both ways against

Houston because of injuries at running back. K.C. Nlemchi got hurt

against the Cougars, and Traylon Shead was already out for the

season. Collin Lagasse also has been sidelined. That left nobody

besides Prescott Line, the younger brother of Zach Line, who

finished last season as the school’s No. 2 career rusher behind

Eric Dickerson. The younger Line had a career-high 81 yards against

Houston, and Pope’s likely to see more action.

BORTLES TRENDING UPWARD: UCF quarterback Blake Bortles is

climbing draft boards and has a favorable matchup against SMU

despite coming off a three-turnover game against South Florida.

He’s seventh nationally in pass efficiency at 167.3, and SMU is

among the worst in the same category at 95th, allowing a 141.1

rating. Bortles has 3,038 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven

interceptions. The Mustangs are allowing 275 passing yards per

game, 113th in the country.

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