UCF Football Game Notes - The C-USA Championship

Nov. 26, 2007

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ORLANDO - The inaugural season for Bright House Networks Stadium will be even more memorable this weekend when UCF welcomes Tulsa to town for the 2007 Bright House Networks Conference USA Championship Saturday at noon. The Knights (9-3, 7-1) already defeated the Golden Hurricane this year in Orlando, a 44-23 victory Oct. 20.

UCF's current six-game winning streak is tied for the longest in program history, as Gene McDowell's 1990 team reeled off six-straight victories as well. It is also the longest in a regular season for head coach George O'Leary during his head coaching career that spans 11 seasons.

The Black and Gold reached the league's title game by defeating UTEP 36-20 Nov. 24 en route to the C-USA East Division crown. With a 9-3 record, UCF is receiving votes in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches' polls.

Tulsa, meanwhile, claims a five-game winning streak as it finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record and a 6-2 mark in C-USA. Its offense stands in ninth place in the FBS with a 40.67 points-per-game average. Quarterback Paul Smith leads the way with a C-USA record 4,327 passing yards and 39 passing touchdowns in 2007.

Great seats to this Saturday's Conference USA Football Championship showdown vs. Tulsa can be purchased through Ticketmaster by calling (407) 839-3900 or by going online at UCFAthletics.com.

Home is Sweeter in 2007
Off to a 5-1 start at their new facility, including five consecutive wins, there is a definite home-field advantage for the Knights at Bright House Networks Stadium. UCF has totaled 252 points at the new on-campus venue so far this season - good for an average of 42.0 ppg. In 2006, the Knights played seven home contests at the Florida Citrus Bowl and scored a total of 143 points at the stadium. On the road, the Knights are still averaging a respectable 33.8 ppg and have a 4-2 record away from Orlando.

Top Turnarounds
For the second time in three seasons, head coach George O'Leary is orchestrating for one of the top turnarounds in the NCAA FBS. Through 12 games, UCF is 9-3 and has posted a five-game turnaround from their 4-8 campaign in 2006. That is tied with five other schools in the FBS for the second best improvement in 2007. Only Illinois has a better turnaround, posting a 9-3 record in the regular season after the Illini went 2-10 last season. O'Leary led the Knights to the fourth-best turnaround in NCAA history back in 2005 when the Knights also won the C-USA East title, posting an 8-5 record overall after going winless (0-11) in 2004 during his first season at the school.

Six of Knights' 2007 Opponents Reach Bowl-Eligible Status
Half of UCF's opponents in 2007 will likely be seen in postseason play as they reached the seven-win mark during the campaign. No. 17 Texas, No. 25 USF and Tulsa all have 9-3 records, while East Carolina, Memphis and Southern Miss each posted 7-5 marks. Collectively, the The Knights went 3-3 against the bowl-eligible opponents on their schedule, including a 2-1 mark against C-USA East Division foes. Houston, Memphis and Southern Miss have already accepted bowl bids from C-USA's allotment, leaving the Liberty Bowl, GMAC Bowl and Sheraton Hawaii Bowl as possible destinations for the Knights. The winner of the C-USA Championship game has gone to the Liberty Bowl the previous two seasons. UCF made its first bowl trip in program history to the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl in 2005.

Burnett Takes Over Conference Lead in Picks
Junior Joe Burnett has been responsible for five turnovers in the Knights' last four games, picking off four passes and recovering a fumble. With his interception in the victory over UTEP (Nov. 24), Burnett moved to the top of the C-USA charts with his sixth pick of the season. The interception also moved him to within one of former Knight Keith Evans, who is the UCF's career record holder with 13 career INTS (1986-88). Burnett's career total of 12 is also tied for sixth on the C-USA career charts. Burnett's six interceptions are a career-high, surpassing the five he had during 2005 when he earned freshman All-America honors. Burnett is UCF's interception leader during the FBS era.

I Want the Ball
Defenders rarely get a chance to run with the football, but this season the Knights have 20 interceptions, which is tied for the fourth most in the FBS, and those have been returned for a school-record 310 yards. Junior Johnell Neal has nearly half of those return yards on his trio of interceptions. Besides his 72-yard INT return for a score against SMU (Nov. 17), Neal also has a five-yard return on his pick at Southern Miss (Oct. 28) and a 59-yard return on his interception at UAB (Nov. 10). His total of 136 return yards is the fourth most in Conference USA single-season history and second most in UCF history. The Knights' record is held by Ray Irvin with 161 return yards on four interceptions in 1991. The previous interception-return yardage team record was 292 (1992). The most interceptions in school history is 21, which was recorded in 1987.

We'll Take Six
In 12 games last season, UCF totaled 27 touchdowns. In 12 games in 2007, the Knights have already registered 57 touchdowns. So far in 2007, the Knights are second in C-USA, averaging 37.9 ppg overall, but rank first in scoring in league games with a 42.0 ppg average.

Knights Set Rushing TD Mark, Yardage Mark Next on the List
With his two-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, junior Kevin Smith helped set a UCF team record for rushing touchdowns in a season. Through 12 games, the Knights have scored 37 rushing touchdowns, eclipsing the previous mark of 36 set by the 1990 team - whose 14-game schedule included three playoff games. The Knights are now closing in on the team rushing yardage mark set by the same 1990 team (3,017 yards). The 2007 squad has already accumulated 2,848 yards on the ground and eclipsed the 300-yard mark in a game on three occasions. The Knights are just shy of breaking into the top five on the C-USA charts for rushing yards in a single season. The 2007 Houston Cougars hold a slight edge on the Knights with the fifth-best total of 2,879 yards. UCF has two games remaining to catch the all-time C-USA leader - the 2005 Memphis Tigers, who rushed for a 3,215 yards.

Rookies Finding the End Zone
True freshmen have accounted for nine touchdowns this year. Kamar Aiken paces the rookies with five touchdowns - all on receptions. A.J. Guyton has a pair of 39-yard receiving touchdowns and Darin Baldwin and Khymest Williams have scored on an interception and kickoff return, respectively.

Making the Rounds
With their 36-20 victory over UTEP, the Knights have now recorded victories over the remaining 11 teams that make up Conference USA since joining the league in 2005. Of the six newcomers from 2005, the Knights and Tulsa are the only two squads to have achieved that feat. Long-time member Houston is the only holdover that has defeated all six newcomers at least once since the reorganization of C-USA.