An article on UCF's official athletics website dubbed the football team the "Cardiac Knights."
It's hard to disagree after yet another Golden Knights victory that can be described best as heart stopping. With UCF's 23-20 come-from-behind victory over USF, the Golden Knights tied a team record with their seventh consecutive victory and improved to 10-1 overall. Of those 10 wins, six have been decided by seven or fewer points, with the total margin in those six victories compiling only 24 points.
That flair for the dramatic has UCF positioned to make more history in a season that's already been chock full of momentous feats. After beating Penn State and Louisville on the road earlier this year, UCF's first-ever win over USF clinched at least a share of the American Athletic Conference title for the Knights. Every class to play at UCF under coach George O'Leary has won a conference title, be it in Conference USA or now the American.
This week's game has extremely high stakes. If UCF can win its regular-season finale at SMU on December 7, the Knights will make more history, and clinch the first BCS bowl bid ever for the rising program out of Orlando.
Expect UCF fans to be rooting for Louisville during the final slate of games before bowl play begins. Currently, the only team that can catch UCF for the BCS bid is Cincinnati. The Golden Knights and Bearcats don't play this season, so the American's BCS spot goes to whichever team finishes higher in the BCS standings if they finish with identical records. If the Cardinals beat the Bearcats, however, UCF automatically secures the BCS berth. Ultimately, however, UCF can help itself the most by taking care of business and defeating SMU.
UCF will enter arguably the most important game in the history of the program having reached its highest status ever in the pools for the second straight time, climbing back to No. 15 in the latest Associated Press poll. The Knights have been nationally ranked for seven consecutive weeks, and they're 16th in the BCS standings.
That status also is important. UCF is two spots behind Northern Illinois in the BCS standings as of Dec. 1, which puts the Knights on track for a bid to the Sugar Bowl if they can finish strong, defeat SMU and continue this march to a BCS bowl.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--Junior wide receiver Rannell Hall first made his name at UCF as a kick returner and returned to those roots during last week's 23-20 win over USF, amassing 177 yards on four returns to earn American Athletic Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors -- the eighth UCF player to earn a weekly accolade from the American this season. Hall ran for at least 33 yards on each return, including a game-changing 69-yarder in the third quarter after USF had scored a touchdown to tie the score at 13-13.
--Freshman OLB Justin McDonald didn't see the field at all in UCF's first four games but he's seen his reps and productivity increase with each passing week since seeing spot duty Oct. 5 at Memphis in his collegiate debut. McDonald made his second straight start against USF, and posted 10 tackles for a new personal best.
--Junior QB Blake Bortles continues to light up the stat sheet for the Knights, becoming the seventh UCF signal-caller to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a season with his 219-yard, two-TD performance against the Bulls. Bortles heads into the regular-season finale at SMU tied for ninth on UCF's single-season chart for passing touchdowns (22) and completed passes (215).
SERIES HISTORY: UCF has won four of five prior meetings with SMU, but the Mustangs' one win in the series came on their home field in Dallas which is also the host site for this game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Any team could easily just throw in the towel and say 'Hey, it was a good season.' But we keep fighting. Of course you feel fortunate. But we're making the plays happen. You have to make stuff happen to win games and I think we've done that." -- C Joey Grant, after UCF's win over USF.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the run offense: True freshman RB William Stanback didn't have any scholarship offers the week before national signing day back in February, but he's proving to be a huge steal for the Knights with 83 carries for 380 yards and six touchdowns thus far in relief of starter Storm Johnson. SMU is next-to-last in the American Athletic Conference against the run, allowing 144.8 yards per game.
Scouting the pass offense: Big plays have defined the passing offense, with the receiver trio of J.J. Worton, Breshad Perriman and Rannell Hall combining for 32 receptions that each reaped 20 or more yards. SMU will test UCF's pass protection; LB Jonathan Yenga and DE Beau Barnes have combined for 11 sacks through 11 games.
Scouting the run defense: SMU coach June Jones is known for a pass-heavy offense and the stats bear that out, with the Mustangs attempting a league-low 303 rushes through 11 games. UCF LB Terrance Plummer has been fantastic this season, leading the team in tackles (90) and stops for loss (8.0).
Scouting the pass defense: SMU's passing game is prolific, averaging a league-high 351.1 ypg but starting QB Garrett Gilbert is questionable and his backup Neal Burcham got sacked five times in last week's shutout loss to Houston. UCF CB Jacoby Glenn has defended a league-high 17 passes -- 15 break-ups and two interceptions -- through 11 games.
Scouting the special teams: PK Shawn Moffitt made all three field goals he attempted against SMU, and can set the school record for field goals made in a season if he can kick two more. Moffitt's current .950 (19-for-20) completion percentage also would set the single-season team record.
--Senior WR and team co-captain Jeff Godfrey went without a catch against USF, ending a streak of 24 straight games where he'd made at least one reception.
--UCF DB Jordan Ozerties picked off his first interception of the season late in the USF game to preserve UCF's 23-20 victory.
--Junior RB Storm Johnson needs 22 more rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
--Tight end Justin Tukes recorded his first touchdown reception of the season against USF, and his third TD catch of his career.
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