Now, in mid-November, the business end of a college football season arrives. The Central Florida Golden Knights know that they have a chance to cement their hold on their division and their conference. The top 25-dwelling team from UCF will put not only its ranking on the line this Saturday when the Knights host Conference USA East Division rival Southern Miss; Central Florida will also be carrying an 11-game C-USA winning streak into the fray. A Knights victory on their home field in Orlando would be the death blow to any far-fetched and lingering hopes the visiting Golden Eagles may still have for capturing the C-USA East Division title.
A Knights victory would also prove that George O’Leary’s squad hasn’t been distracted by the Big East talk that’s been swirling around the program in recent weeks. A win would also serve to further the speculation, but that’s really not the point of what the Golden Knights are pursuing at the present moment. With three games left in the C-USA regular season, UCF knows that if it wins this weekend, Southern Miss – considered the favorite for the East by a majority of football writers before the season – will be knocked out of the divisional race. Moreover, a Central Florida triumph over the visitors from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, will put the Golden Knights within one win (on Nov. 20 or on Thanksgiving weekend) of locking up the East title and a spot in the C-USA Championship Game on Saturday, Dec. 4, in Orlando. With every West Division team owning at least two conference losses, the East champion will host the league title tilt, so Central Florida is aware of the opportunity sitting on the table, waiting to be claimed.
This match-up between two teams that share more than a passing resemblance – both UCF and Southern Miss like to pound the rock at opposing defenses – favors the home team. UCF freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey, the owner of 1,300 passing yards and 499 rushing yards – is emerging as not just a big-play threat, but a devastatingly effective field general. In his last two games, Godfrey has completed 23-of-31 passes for 453 yards and four touchdowns with only one interception. In last Friday’s 40-33 win over Houston, Godfrey also rushed for one touchdown and 105 yards on 20 carries, constantly flummoxing the Cougars’ defense on third-and-six and third-and-four-type situations with his running.
As good as the Southern Miss defense has been, holding opponents to only 320.7 yards and 26.1 points per game, the UCF defense has been even better, begrudgingly giving up only 18.3 points and 307.9 yards per game. Knights’ senior defensive end Bruce Miller, who has two pick-sixes on the season, is a virtual lock to be named the best defensive player in C-USA; the Golden Eagles don’t have a difference-maker like Miller on the defensive side of the ball.
They do, however, have a multi-pronged ground attack led by Kendrick Hardy and Desmond Johnson – who have both rushed for over 420 yards this season – that could test the stout Knights’ run defense. Junior quarterback Austin Davis – who is just 30 yards short of 2,000 passing yards for the year – will need to rebound from a subpar outing in last Saturday’s 46-30 win over Tulane if Southern Miss is going to pull off the upset.