1. MOTIVATED MUSTANGS -- It shouldn't be difficult for the players and coaches to "get up" for this game.
A few weeks ago, it looked like the Mustangs - following losses to Houston and UTEP - would likely be headed for a second-place finish in the C-USA Western Division.
Houston, however, faltered down the stretch and SMU (7-5) took care of business, winning its last two games, including last week's overtime 45-38 shootout road win over two-time defending C-USA champ East Carolina.
Today's game is the next progression in the masterful work of head coach June Jones and his staff, who have done a tremendous job both on and off the field. Last year, SMU won a bowl game. Today, the Ponies compete for the conference title. On National Signing Day - in a few months - SMU is poised to land a terrific, talented recruiting class that will provide plenty of continued excitement at The Hilltop.
The current crop of Mustangs are well aware that they're the decided underdog today vs. Central Florida. Most soothsayers don't even believe that SMU will stay within a touchdown of the 9-3 Knights. Moreover, SMU is playing on the road, at Bright House Network Stadium - Central Florida's home field.
"Last week, I asked (the team) how many of them had won or played for a conference championship and only about 10 out of 100 raised their hands," said Coach Jones. "They realized that it's an opportunity that may not happen again in their playing careers.
"We're excited about the chance. We're over-matched; (UCF) is a pretty good football team, but we've been over-matched before. Our kids will play hard and hopefully make enough plays to win."
Do we have a chip on our shoulder yet?
2. THE SMU FOUR HORSEMEN -- On offense, four players have stood extra tall this year for the Mustangs: Zach Line, Aldrick Robinson, Kyle Padron, and Cole Beasley.
The aforementioned quartet will face a stiff test today against a UCF defense that is ranked No. 17 in the nation in points allowed (giving up only 18.9). There's ample evidence, though, that the Knights have some vulnerable spots in their defensive armor. UCF allowed 35 points to East Carolina and 33 to Houston, and SMU's offensive weapons compare favorably with their counterparts at those two respective schools.
"Zach is a football player," said Jones. "He's a good kid and he does it the way that the old, hard-nosed guys used to do it. He has a little inside quickness, he's a good runner, and he'll block anybody, it doesn't matter who it is. He's a team guy and I'm really happy that he's had the year he has."
Line's running (1,297 yards, 10 TDs) has helped open things up for the passing game, and when Padron is on top of his game, he's been as good as any NCAA quarterback. Robinson has stretched defenses with his speed and breathtaking, difficult catches, while Beasley has been a jack-of-all-trades (and master of several) at receiver.
"They're good for a reason – they don't beat themselves," said Jones in regard to the Knights' defense. "George (O'Leary) has them doing the same things over and over and it allows them to get better and have confidence and make plays. They got athletes. Their front four is the best in the conference and their back end knows what they're doing. They know how to play defense."
3. CONTAIN GODFREY & MCDUFFIE -- Much ado has been made about the Knights' true freshman quarterback, Jeffrey Godfrey, and rightly so. It's extremely rare that a true frosh makes such an impact on the college level, especially under center.
Godfrey has steadily improved as a passer through the season. Over the past five games, he's thrown for 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. In the prior six games, Godfrey only tossed two TDs (with four picks).
He's a slightly-built (5-foot-11, 176 pounds) dual-threat QB (second on the team in rushing), so Taylor Reed (122 tackles), Pete Fleps (111 tackles) and Ja'Gared Davis (15 TFL, 9 sacks) should all make it a point to "welcome him" early in the game.
"Ja'Gared is a big-time player," Jones said. "He's an impact guy. He can get off the edge, he can run, he can chase things down. He's had a wonderful season and we're proud of him."
Cornerback Richard Crawford has been on fire down the stretch. His interception last week vs. East Carolina sealed the deal in overtime. Sterling Moore is back in the fold after an injury and his presence seems to breathe added life into the SMU defensive unit.
UCF wide receiver Quincy McDuffy is averaging close to 35 yards per kick return, so the Mustangs will need to guard against McDuffy finding a seam (a la Tyrone Carrier of Houston).