It was not pretty, but UCF will take it. The Golden Knights clinched the outright American Athletic Conference championship by coming from behind int he second half at SMU, 17-13. It was the seventh time this season UCF won a game by seven points or less.
This was the coldest game in UCF program history, and there were times when it was clear the temperature was causing some problems for quarterback Blake Bortles and the rest of the offense. Bortles had a football slip out of his hands while on the move and receivers had a tough time holding on to the football. UCF started cold as well, scoring just three points and trailing the Mustangs 10-3 at the half. Things were not much prettier in the second half, but it worked for UCF as the offense finally found some plays to build on.
Bortles rushed for two touchdowns in the third quarter to give UCF the lead and the score stayed there though the entire fourth quarter. He ended his day completing 24 of 35 pass attempts for 242 yards. SMU quarterback Neal Burcham, playing in place of an injured Garrett Gilbert, had to be taken out of the game in the fourth quarter after landing hard on the cold turf and suffering a concussion. That left the bowl hopes of SMU in the hands of Garrett Krstitch, a very inexperienced quarterback. Krstitch was intercepted once and was unable to lead SMU back late in the game.
The loss ensures SMU they will stay home this postseason. SMU had played in four straight bowl games entering this season under head coach June Jones. After seeing the football team’s win total diminish each of the past two years now, what kind of changes are on the way in Dallas could be interesting to watch.
UCF now awaits to find out their official BCS bowl destination, although it is expected they will be heading to the Fiesta Bowl. The Orange Bowl would be more desirable for UCF though, given the in-state proximity and the number of fans already saving up for an overseas trip to play Penn State in Ireland to open the 2014 season.