ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — UCF and Houston were expected to play the role of understudy to more established programs like Louisville and Rutgers in the race for the American Athletic Conference crown and the coveted BCS berth that comes with it.
Instead, Saturday’s matchup between No. 19 UCF (6-1, 3-0 American) and Houston (7-1, 4-0) could go a long way in proving lots of preseason prognostications wrong.
As welcoming as the national spotlight might be for the former Conference USA rivals, UCF receiver J.J. Worton said it didn’t change the approach for the Knights this week.
“We see it, but it doesn’t really mean anything to us,” he said. “Yeah, it’s nice to be nationally known, but that’s how we feel every year. We know what we can do, and we know everybody’s got their own opinion — and they’re entitled to it. But like coach says, the people that matter are inside the circle, and that’s us inside the football group.
“We know that other people think of us the way they want to. We know what we can do and that’s all that matters.”
Unlike in some of their earlier season matchups, UCF and Houston have lots of history with one another, having met four times in C-USA.
Most of those matchups were buoyed by title implications as well.
A victory Saturday would tie UCF’s best start in school history.
The underdog this time around, Houston coach Tony Levine said he knows what to expect against a George O’Leary-coached team.
“When you talk about a Coach O’Leary football team and program, what comes to mind nationally is that they are a well-coached team,” Levine said. “That’s really been a trademark of his as long as he’s been coaching. They make you earn everything, they don’t make mistakes, they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t commit penalties…It’ll be a great challenge for us.”
The Knights are coming off a bye-week and remained ranked behind Louisville in the BCS rankings despite a lopsided victory over Connecticut on Oct. 26.
BCS rankings could potentially come into play in a tiebreaker scenario should UCF lose one of its final five conference games.
Still, O’Leary said he wasn’t thinking about any potential boost that could come with a victory this week.
“I think the most important thing is that you keep winning,” O’Leary said. “That’s the only control you have in the polls. Say whatever, but if we keep winning, then we’ll end up where we want to be…That’s the only control we have over anything, really.”
Here are five things to watch for in Saturday’s game:
PRESSURE UP FRONT: Look for the Knights to try to make Cougars freshman quarterback John O’Korn make quick decisions in the pocket. O’Korn leads all FBS true freshmen with 22 touchdown passes this year, and has thrown only four interceptions. UCF ranks third in the American in passing defense, surrendering 221 yards per game.
BORTLES’ DECISIONS: Since his three interceptions in two games against Penn State and South Carolina, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles has settled down and thrown only one in his last three outings. Expect the Cougars’ defense to make it tough, though. They have 17 picks on the season, ranking second nationally.
HOUSTON’S RUN GAME: The Cougars don’t average 41.1 points per game just because of their passing attack. They also rank second in the American in rushing offense, averaging 162.2 yards per game. UCF’s defense comes in allowing 128 yards per game.
SCOREBOARD: This game could be an offensive track meet. Houston has scored in all 32 quarters this season and has scored in 39 straight quarters dating to last year. Houston is the only FBS team to score in every quarter in 2013. UCF has outscored opponents 134-41 in the first half this season, but just 125-94 in the final 30 minutes.
ANOTHER CLOSE AFFAIR? Three of the four meetings between the Knights and Cougars have been decided by seven or fewer points. If it comes down to a kicking matchup, UCF has the advantage with Lou Groza Award candidate Shawn Moffitt, who is 9 for 9 on field goal attempts this season. Houston kicker Richie Leone is 11 for 17.
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