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Saturday will mark the third time in history the UCF Knights will be hosting the Conference USA Championship at home in Orlando, but it’s the first time they will not be playing the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in the game.
UCF will take on Southern Methodist at 12 p.m. at Bright House Networks stadium as they try to win their second C-USA title in school history.
They’re hoping the result turns out more like the 2007 season, where they defeated Tulsa 44-25, rather than the 44-27 loss they experienced at the hands of the Golden Hurricane in 2005.
Scouting the Knights: UCF comes into the game ranked No. 25 in the USA Today/Coaches’ Poll, the second time this season they have been ranked. The Knights are led by freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who is eighth in the nation in passing efficiency at 164.79. He ranked first in Conference USA in that category as well (passing efficiency) and leads all true freshman quarterbacks nationally in rushing touchdowns (10), completion percentage (67.4) and is third in total offense (2,404). Since taking over as the starting quarterback, Godfrey has gone 8-2 and helped charge the Knight offense, which has averaged 35.2 points per game this season. On defense, the Knights continue to rank as one of the top units in the country, ranking No. 18 in total defense and scoring defense. UCF also ranks 11th in rushing defense nationally.
Scouting the Mustangs: June Jones’ effect on SMU’s offense can be seen in his third year with the team. Jones, the former Hawaii head coach, has helped SMU become one of the best offensive teams in the country, averaging 422.8 yards per game this season, which is tied for No. 32 in the nation. The difference in the offense has been the passing game for the Mustangs. They are averaging 278.25 yards per game through the air, No. 20 in the nation, and much of that has to do with their quarterback Kyle Padron. The sophomore has thrown for 3,306 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Padron is 13th in the nation in passing yards per game (275.5) and has been the leader of the offense, but it has been the running game that has surprised many this year. The Mustangs have the top rusher in C-USA, Zach Line, who has rushed for 1,297 yards this season. He averages just over 108 yards per game this season and has rushed for over 100 yards in six games this season, including a season-high 202 yards in a 31-17 win over Marshall back on Nov. 20. Defensively, the Mustangs are vulnerable. They average giving up over 360 yards per game this season and allow 27.2 points per game.
UCF will win if…
They control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and keep the SMU offense off the field. UCF averages over 33:21 of possession time this season, which is ranked fourth-best in the nation. UCF has established a passing game this season but they have to do what they do best: run to football with a variety of backs and stop Line of the defensive side of the ball.
SMU will win if…
They attack the Knights through the air. UCF can be vulnerable in the secondary, especially against speedy and talent wide receivers. Aldrick Robinson has caught 57 balls for 1,182 yards this year and has seven 100+ receiving yard games while his counterpart, Cole Beasley, leads the team with 79 receptions for 976 yards.
Keep an eye on…
How the Knights start this game, as they have usually had success early. UCF has scored first in 11 of its games this season and has outscored its opponents 124-27 in the opening frame.
Noteworthy: Current SMU Director of Athletics Steve Orsini served as UCF’s Director of Athletics from 2002-2006 and was key in hiring head coach George O’Leary.
Stat of the game: UCF will match a program-best 10 wins if they defeat SMU on Saturday. If they win, they will head to Memphis to take on either Georgia or Tennessee in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31. If they lose, Hawaii will be the destination on Dec. 24 to take on who else but Hawaii in the Hawaii bowl.