Title Time: UCF-Tulsa Set for C-USA Championship on Saturday

Dec. 2, 2005

ORLANDO - Just one year removed from a winless season, UCF (8-3, 7-1 Conference USA) has rebounded in a fashion that has gained national attention. The Golden Knights will take center stage Saturday as they look to put an exclamation point on one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history when they host Tulsa (7-4, 6-2) in the Inaugural Conference USA Championship Game presented by Xbox 360. Kickoff for the game is set for noon at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

ESPN will televise the game live to a national audience. Mark Jones will call the game and Chris Spielman will provide the color commentary, while Rob Stone reports from the sidelines.

The UCF ISP Network and its flagship station 740-The Team AM (WQTM) will broadcast the game live. Marc Daniels will once again have the call with Gary Parris. Jerry O'Neill will handle the sideline duties. Network affiliates include WMMV-1350 in Cocoa, WDCF-1350 Dade City, WROD-1340 in Daytona Beach and WMMB-1240 Melbourne

Prior to the start of the season, neither team was expected to contend for a conference championship. Both schools, who are new members of C-USA, were predicted to finish near the bottom of their respective divisions. Tulsa was selected to finish no better than fourth in the West Division, while UCF was picked to finish last in the East Division.

"It is pretty ironic," said Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe. "It is two teams that nobody expected to be in this game. We have both distinguished ourselves, us in the West and them in the East, of being the teams that had the best records. Now we are deserving of having an opportunity to play in this game. I think it is exciting for both teams and a great storyline."

About Tulsa

The Golden Hurricane come into the championship having won five of their past six games. Their only defeat during that stretch was a three-point loss at the hands of UTEP. One of their biggest wins of the year came when they handed Southern Miss just its sixth home conference loss in school history.

Senior tight end Garret Mills, the nation's leading receiving tight end and an All-America candidate, is the focal point of the Tulsa offense. Mills has caught 75 passes for 1,031 yards and eight touchdowns so far this year. He has produced six 100-yard receiving games this season, including a season-high 13 catches for 152 yards against Oklahoma on Sept. 10.

"He (Mills) has 75 catches," said UCF head coach George O'Leary. "That is a lot for a tight end, so we'll know where he is. He's a good player. He catches everything thrown at him - short, long and he blocks. I look at him as an H-back, not a tight end. He's more of a move guy. He's not going to sit at the line of scrimmage and pound you. They do a good job of utilizing him in that offense."

Sophomore quarterback Paul Smith has led the Golden Hurricane offense all year. Smith has had eight games this season where he has thrown for over 200 yards. For the year, Smith has completed 61.8 percent of his passes and thrown for 17 touchdowns with just six interceptions.

The Tulsa rushing attack is anchored by four different runners. Senior Uril Parrish, freshman Tarrion Adams, junior Brandon Diles and sophomore Cauvey Jackson have helped account for 1,500 yards on the ground and 18 rushing touchdowns. Parrish leads the team in rushing with 624 yards and seven touchdowns.

Tulsa, much like UCF, is one of the nation's leaders in forcing turnovers. Tulsa is currently sixth in the nation in takeaways, with 18 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries. Of their 30 takeaways on the year, 19 have occurred in the last six games.

About UCF

The Golden Knights come into the game having won eight of their final nine games, including their last five in a row. The squad's plus eight win differential this year has made them the nation's most improved football team.

Junior quarterback Steven Moffett continues to lead the Golden Knight offense. Moffett has enjoyed his finest season under center. He has completed 191-of-312 passes for 2,434 yards and 18 touchdowns. His passing efficiency rating of 141.94 continues to rank near the top of C-USA.

"Your offense goes as your quarterback goes on most teams I've been around," said O'Leary. "If he's on target, making the right decisions, you have a chance to move the ball. That's the one area that he's (Moffett) really gotten better in is fieldsmanship, just understanding what's in front of him. We do check a lot and he's done a good job of checking out of bad situations and putting us in a good situation."

Moffett has had the benefit this year of having one of the best receiving duos in C-USA. Senior Brandon Marshall, an All-C-USA Second Team selection, has 56 catches this year for 876 yards and eight touchdowns, while junior Mike Walker, also an All-C-USA Second Team pick, has 64 catches for 855 yards and nine touchdowns on the year.

Unfortunately, UCF will be without the services of Walker for the championship game. Walker injured his knee in the regular season finale at Rice and has been ruled out of the game this weekend.

"He (Walker) was no question a very dominant player for us," said O'Leary. "When this happens, the good thing there is that it allows the young kids to step up. I don't know if they can fill his shoes, but they're going to wear them."

Kevin Smith, C-USA's Freshman of the Year, continues to give the Golden Knights a spark in the backfield. Smith, who is nearing 1,000 yards for the season, has rushed 205 times for 915 yards and five touchdowns.

Cornerback Joe Burnett, a first-team all-league and all-freshman pick, continues to shine defensively for the Golden Knights. Burnett is currently tied for the league lead in interceptions with five. His interception against Rice in the final game of the regular season helped to seal the victory for UCF. He also returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown versus the Owls. His 14.7 average per punt return is good for first in the conference.

In addition to Walker, Marshall, Smith and Burnett, the Golden Knights had seven other players receive all-conference honors. Senior defensive end Paul Carrington and junior center Cedric Gagne-Marcoux were named to the first team, while senior tight end Darcy Johnson was named to the second team. True freshman offensive tackle Patrick Brown, redshirt freshman guard L.J. Anderson, true freshmen linebacker Jordan Richards and redshirt freshman Jason Venson were all named to the all-freshman squad.