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
”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. 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
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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