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Conference USA Championship Game 2010 Preview: UCF Vs. SMU

(Sports Network) SMU earned a spot in this contest by virtue of a thrilling 45-38 overtime victory over East Carolina in the regular season finale. The Mustangs captured the C-USA West Division crown with a 6-2 record and are set to compete in the title game for the first time. They will be vying for their first league crown since 1984 when they were co-champs of the Southwest Conference. June Jones is the head coach at SMU, and his team was won its last two outings to move to 7-5 overall.

"We set a goal for ourselves after the Nevada game [last year] to be conference champions," said coach Jones. "It didn't look like we had a chance to do it but the kids kept believing."

As for UCF, it enters this clash with a 9-3 overall record and the last two outings have resulted in victory, including last weekend's 37-17 romp over Memphis. George O'Leary's Knights finished 7-1 in C-USA play during the regular season for the third time in the last six years, and that mark was good enough to capture the league's East Division title. The school record for overall wins in a season is 10, a mark that UCF can obviously tie this weekend and break in a bowl game. The Knights are playing on their home field this weekend where they are 4-2 so far this season.

"We came away from here with a good win, a conference win and we secured the Eastern Division," said O'Leary after the triumph over Memphis. "Now, all that is left to do is go play SMU in the conference championship game. We'll have our hands full and I'm looking forward to playing SMU."

These two teams did not meet during the regular season, and the Knights have won their only two previous matchups with the Mustangs.

SMU has tremendous performers at the offensive skill positions, and the result has been 28.2 ppg and 422.8 total ypg to date. Wideout Aldrick Robinson has set a program single-season record with 12 touchdown receptions and another mark with seven games of at least 100 receiving yards. Robinson is just third on the team in catches with 57, but the big-play performer has 1,182 receiving yards to his credit. Cole Beasley leads the club with 79 catches, and his has six receiving scorers. Kyle Padron is the club's quarterback, and he has set program records with 3,306 yards passing, 28 TD passes and 32 TDs responsible for (28 pass, 4 run). At the tailback position, Zach Line now has 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

Line scored what proved to be the winning touchdown in overtime against East Carolina, and he finished that affair with 123 rushing yards and two scores on 30 carries. Padron, who fought through an ankle injury suffered in the win, passed for 331 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception, and Beasley made nine catches for 118 yards. Robinson tallied 129 yards on five grabs, and both he and Beasley scored touchdowns.

While the SMU offense has been strong, the team's defense certainly has some room for improvement. The Mustangs are yielding 27.2 ppg on 366.7 total ypg by foes. Of the 39 touchdowns that have been surrendered to opponents, 22 have been of the rushing variety. Still, it should be pointed out that coach Jones' team is giving up a mere 3.7 yards per rushing attempt. Opponents have been able to make good on 44 percent of their third down conversion attempts against SMU, which clearly needs to do a better job of getting off the field. Taylor Reed paces the Mustangs with 122 total tackles, while Ja'Gared Davis has nine sacks to his credit.

Richard Crawford was the hero for the SMU defense in the victory East Carolina last weekend, as his interception in overtime sealed the victory and stamped the Mustangs' ticket to this title game. SMU didn't play particularly well against the Pirates, yielding 452 total yards and five touchdowns, but the defense stiffened when it mattered the most.

UCF is racking up 35.2 ppg and 390.3 total ypg, impressive numbers for a solid offensive team. The Knights have scored a staggering total of 34 rushing touchdowns and gain almost 200 ypg on the ground. Ronnie Weaver paces a loaded backfield with 855 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, while quarterback Jeff Godfrey has rushed for 529 yards and 10 scores. Godfrey has also completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,875 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing just six interceptions. Clearly, UCF lacks a big-time receiver, but Godfrey has done a tremendous job of spreading the ball around.

Defensively, the Knights have been superb, limiting opponents to 18.9 ppg this season on just 318.2 total ypg. They have allowed a mere 3.4 yards per rushing attempt, and just nine rushing scores have been permitted. Sure, the play against the pass hasn't been quite as impressive, but the team has been in front in many of its games, causing foes to put the ball up on almost every play. Darius Nall has been a solid performer for UCF thus far, as he has 7.5 sacks to his credit.

In the romp over Memphis last week, sophomore tailback Latavius Murray ran for 75 yards and two touchdowns, bringing his season total to nine rushing scorers for UCF. Godfrey completed 14-of-17 passes in that affair for 252 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and the signal caller also rushed for a score. Jamar Newsome was tremendous on the outside, hauling in both of the touchdown passes and finishing with 118 yards on just four catches. The Knights were 8-of-12 on third down conversion attempts, key to the blowout.

The Knights held Memphis to 295 total yards, including 23 yards on 21 rushing attempts. UCF forced a pair of turnovers and surrendered just two touchdowns, including one in the final minute long after the outcome had been decided.

Side with the road team in this affair, as SMU's weapons will be too much for UCF to handle. Expect the Mustangs to pull away in the second half.