AAC Notebook: UCF survives scare from South Florida

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

For a few brief moments on Friday night, it looked like the final weekend of the inaugural American Athletic Conference season was going to come down to a three-way free-for-all in which even after the games ended, it might be unclear who would represent the league in the BCS.
But as it has all season, Central Florida dug deep, overcame a fourth-quarter deficit, and got the play it needed to win. A 52-yard touchdown pass and a late interception kept the Knights undefeated in league play and firmly in the driver's seat.
Central Florida closes the regular season at Southern Methodist this weekend. The Mustangs have a lot at stake as well, as the team needs one more win to become bowl-eligible. But SMU may again be without record-setting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who missed last week's loss to Houston with a sprained knee. And if the loss to the Cougars proved anything, it's that backup Neal Burcham isn't ready for what he's likely to see from the Central Florida defense.
The Knights' win over South Florida locked up at least a share of the regular-season title. If it loses to SMU, it will share the title with the winner of the Louisville-Cincinnati game, which takes place on Thursday.
Both the Cardinals and the Bearcats are playing for the Keg of Nails for what may be the final time in a while, since the Cardinals are switching to the ACC in 2014. But aside from that, the stakes may be higher for Cincinnati by the time the teams kick off.
Louisville loses a tiebreaker with Central Florida based on the Knights'38-35 victory over the Cardinals on Oct. 18. If Cincinnati wins and Central Florida loses, the teams tie at 7-1 atop the AAC standings. Because the teams didn't meet during the season, the tiebreaker becomes which team finishes higher in the BCS standings.
Cincinnati enters the week behind Central Florida in the BCS standings, but would gain in the rankings by knocking off Louisville. UCF, meanwhile, would drop considerably with a loss to the Mustangs.
The other two teams with a lot on the line Saturday are Rutgers and Southern Methodist. Both need a win to become bowl-eligible, but both have strikes against them. The Mustangs may be without Gilbert, while the Scarlet Knights will have to turn things around quickly after last week's loss to Connecticut, its fifth in the last six games.

1. No, the box score from the SMU-Houston game wasn't wrong -- that was Mustangs linebacker Kevin Pope getting credit for nine carries and three receptions. Pope, who played running back in high school, was pressed into duty on the offensive side of the ball thanks to a series of injuries that have decimated the SMU backfield.
2. A player to watch in 2014 is Temple wideout Robbie Anderson. The sophomore became freshman quarterback P.J. Walker's top target, and he finished with nine touchdown receptions in the Owls' final five games.
3. Connecticut sent its fans away from a home game happy for the first time in more than a year. Up until Saturday's victory over Rutgers, the Huskies hadn't won at Rentschler Field since Nov. 9, 2012.
4. The Rutgers defense just gets worse every week. What once was a problem defending against spread offenses has evolved into a situation where the team simply can't defend against the pass. UConn's Casey Cochran, the third Huskies starter of the season, torched the secondary for 25-33 for 311 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
5. Louisville wide receiver Damian Copeland was granted a medical waiver by the NCAA that would allow for a sixth year of eligibility. He redshirted in 2009 and missed 2011 with an injury. Copeland said he hasn't yet decided whether he would come back and take advantage of that sixth year or test his luck in the NFL draft.

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