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November 26, 2013

March to championship continues

Five wins decided by seven or fewer points. A game-saving, diving, one-handed touchdown grab by J.J. Worton that ranks as one of the most spectacular catches ever in college football. UCF's 2013 football season has seemed more like the product of a Hollywood script room than an actual sequence of real-life events.

What do the Knights have in store for their next-to-last episode, er, game of the season? Only a showdown with budding in-state rival South Florida. It will be senior day at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, and UCF has to win to maintain its status atop the American Athletic Conference.


UCF controls its own destiny in that regard; win out and the Knights claim the first American football title and an automatic berth to a BCS bowl. However, if UCF should stumble in one of its two remaining games and Cincinnati wins out, the Bearcats could supplant the Knights in the BCS standings and claim that conference's automatic spot.

The Knights can clinch at least a share of the American title by beating the Bulls. UCF also would clinch double-digit wins for the second straight season, and log their seventh straight victory -- equaling the longest win streak in team history.

Meanwhile, South Florida is in the midst of a lost season, dropping its first four games and heading into this game with a 2-8 record. This has been earmarked as a new key rivalry for the American, beginning at the league media day when UCF coach George O'Leary and USF counterpart Willie Taggart swapped barbs.

"He said he's got to own the I-4 corridor," O'Leary said of Taggart at that event this summer. "I said to him, obviously you've got to go back and look at your geography."

UCF is coming into this game off arguably its most complete performance of 2013. The Knights humbled Rutgers by a 41-17 margin last Thursday, limiting the Scarlet Knights to 221 total yards of offense and amassing 452 total yards themselves.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

-CB Jacoby Glenn was all over the place during UCF's 41-17 win over Rutgers, matching a school record by breaking up five passes. Glenn has 15 pass break-ups headed into the final two games of the regular season, and would need eight more deflections to set the school single-season record.

-QB Blake Bortles continues to earn notoriety, recognized by CBS Sports as a potential first-round draft pick if he decides to come out at the end of this season and receiving praise from former Florida QB turned ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer as "one of the best quarterbacks in the country that nobody talks about." Bortles, who completed 21 passes for 335 yards against Rutgers, now ranks fourth all-time at UCF in completed passes (524) and fifth in attempted passes (799).

-WR Breshad Perriman sustained a scary head injury against Houston earlier this month that had him stretchered out of Bright House Networks Stadium and forced him to miss the Temple game as he recovered from the concussion. Perriman returned in a big way against Rutgers, making five catches for 99 yards and a TD and surpassing the 1,000-yard receiving mark for his career.

SERIES HISTORY: UCF is 0-4 against South Florida, and this is the first meeting between the two programs since 2008.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "In the big picture, I really think UCF's a program that is on the rise. It's a program that's steadily gaining more traction nationally. It doesn't stop after this season." -- ESPN's Jesse Palmer prior to last Thursday's broadcast of the UCF-Rutgers game

GAME BREAKDOWN

Scouting the run offense: Junior Storm Johnson and freshman William Stanback have been a fantastic duo for UCF, amassing 1,263 total yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground through 10 games. Johnson needs 84 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, and has scored multiple touchdowns in the same game six times in 2013.

Scouting the pass offense: Blake Bortles completed 12 straight passes during a stretch that spanned the end of the Temple game and the start of the Rutgers contest, tied for the second-longest such streak in school history behind Daunte Culpepper's 15 straight completed passes in 1997. WR J.J. Worton racked up 117 receiving yards last week against Rutgers, passing the century mark in back-to-back weeks.

Scouting the run defense: UCF was excellent against the run vs. Rutgers, limiting the Scarlet Knights to 69 yards on the ground and 221 overall -- the second time this season UCF held an opponent to fewer than 230 yards. LB Terrance Plummer, UCF's leading tackler, ranks ninth in the American Athletic Conference with 81 total stops.

Scouting the pass defense: The UCF secondary broke up 12 passes in last week's win over Rutgers, and is averaging 6.2 passes defended per game, the second-highest ratio during George O'Leary's tenure as coach. This week's opponent, USF, ranks dead-last in the American in passing with a 165.0-yard average.

Scouting the special teams: Punt protection is a concern for the Knights after Rutgers blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. PK Shawn Moffitt continues to have a fantastic season, making 16 of 17 field goals through 10 games and his .775 career completion percentage on field goals would set the UCF school record.

ROSTER REPORT

-WR Rannell Hall has made a catch in 25 straight games heading into UCF's home game against USF, while fellow wideout Jeff Godfrey has a 24-game streak with a reception.

-DE Miles Pace returned against Rutgers after missing the prior two games with a case of appendicitis.

-Junior DB Clayton Geathers, who has made 35 career starts entering the Rutgers game, snared his first career interception against the Scarlet Knights.





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