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C-USA Championship - UCF at Tulsa
Posted Nov 28, 2012

C-USA Championship Fearless Prediction - UCF at Tulsa

UCF (9-3) at Tulsa (9-3) Dec. 1, 12:00, ESPN2

Here’s The Deal … It’s not déjà vu. UCF was just in Oklahoma to play Tulsa two weeks ago.

When the Knights travelled to Chapman Stadium on Nov. 17, the assumption was that it would be the first of two meetings. Turns out it was, with the Golden Hurricane taking the opening act—and home-field advantage for this week’s Conference USA Championship Game—23-21.

With a victory on Saturday afternoon, Tulsa will capture its first league championship since 2005, along with the Liberty Bowl berth that goes with it. The Hurricane has lost to Iowa State of the Big 12, Arkansas of the SEC and SMU of, well, its own division. The stumble to the Mustangs occurred just last Saturday, but does head coach Bill Blankenship really need to be concerned about his team’s mindset? Tulsa had absolutely nothing to gain when it traveled to Dallas to play an opponent that was a win away from bowl-eligibility. Go ahead and label it a wake-up call that the staff will use to its advantage during practices.

It’s been an interesting year in Orlando. UCF began it believing its one-year bowl ban would need to be served in 2012, but an appeal by the University won’t be heard until after the season ends. The fallout? The Knights will borrow from today to pay for tomorrow, especially good news for the seniors. Like Tulsa, UCF fell a little short in its games with larger programs, bowing in Columbus to Ohio State and at home to Mizzou. Ninth-year head coach George O’Leary is hoping to turn the Conference USA hardware into a sweet door prize as his school prepares to pack up and head for the Big East.

Players to Watch: As the 12th-ranked ground game goes, so goes the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa boasts one of the deepest backfields in the country, a three-headed complement, Ja’Terian Douglas, Trey Watts and Alex Singleton, that’s combined to produce 2,327 and 28 touchdowns on the ground. Douglas norms almost seven yards a carry, Watts is the best receiver and Singleton is a bull in short yardage. The trio has got to continue keeping the chains moving, because Cody Green is inefficient in the passing game. He’s played better of late, but lacks consistency or the arm to stretch out a defense.

Tulsa will be running at arguably Conference USA’s best defense, a unit allowing 21 points per game. UCF is particularly tough versus the pass, especially when the Davis’, DE Troy and LB Jonathan, are getting backfield pressure. However, the Knights are more vulnerable against the run, yielding 209 yards when the teams met two weeks ago. Oh, and someone better cover sophomore Keyarris Garrett, who schooled the secondary for seven catches, 130 yards and three touchdowns on Nov. 17. A big game will be needed by versatile FS Kemal Ishmael, the team’s leading tackler who also has three picks.

The Hurricane will use three players out of the backfield. The Knights are content with just one, 6-3, 222-pound Latavius Murray. The senior has made a compelling case to NFL scouts, rushing for 964 yards and 13 scores despite missing a month to injury. His mission on Saturday will be to navigate a feisty and aggressive D that leads the conference in run defense, sacks and stops for loss. QB Blake Bortles is a good athlete, rushing for six scores. But he is not designed to escape the relentless heat that might be visited upon him from ends Jared St. John and Cory Dorris and linebackers DeAundre Brown and Shawn Jackson.

UCF will win if … it stays out of third-and-long situations.

The Knights have been solid on third downs for much of the season, especially when Murray needs to pick up just a couple of yards between the tackles. If Bortles is forced into obvious passing situations, which happened in the first meeting, the Knights will be in trouble on offense. The very last thing that UCF wants to do is telegraph what it’s doing on third downs. Its receivers are mediocre, especially when matched with athletic Hurricane safeties Dexter McCoil and Demarco Nelson. And if Brown and Jackson are cleared for takeoff, it’s going to be a frustrating—and painful—afternoon for Bortles.

Tulsa will win if … it rushes for at least 200 yards.

160. 106. 178. Those were the Hurricane’s three rushing totals in its losses this season. The fourth time it was held below 200 yards rushing, it defeated Fresno State, but just by a point. The three backs are the grease that makes the offense go. Generally speaking, Tulsa rolls whenever Green isn’t asked to do too much. The team aims to pound its opponents into submission, wearing them out with a fresh set of legs in the second half. Blankenship is determined to leverage his team’s backfield depth, which will also place a premium on starting fast, and not falling behind.

What Will Happen: Sure, it’s not easy beating a team twice, especially in such a short time span. However, Tulsa has the blueprint on how to defeat its rival from the East Division.

It was just two weeks ago that the Golden Hurricane knocked off the Knights more handily than the final score indicated, outgaining its visitor 461-235. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that Tulsa can’t be just as successful now that the stakes are higher. It’ll again run the ball with its eclectic troops out of the backfield, and it will again limit UCF’s yards after contact and third-down conversions. The fact that Blankenship’s kids won’t have to travel only enhances their case for a win. While the Knights are resilient and well-coached, their rally in the final 15 minutes will fall short … much the way it did two weeks ago at Chapman Stadium.

CFN Prediction: Tulsa 28 … UCF 24 …

ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Tulsa -1 O/U: 57
Must Watch Rating (5 – Crossfire Hurricane, 1 – Comic Book Men: 4