DALLAS (AP) — 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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