Through 10 games of ups and downs (mostly ups) for both TU and Central Florida, the two division leaders will finally clash in Tulsa Saturday with a lot to play for.
Both teams enter 8-2 overall and a perfect 6-0 in conference play. A win for Tulsa clinches the West division and home-field advantage for the Conference USA title game.
A loss turns next week's date with SMU into what would likely be a must-win game just to advance to the title game (which would then be in Orlando).
UCF is much more old-school than most of the teams Tulsa has faced this season. They rely heavily on physical line play and a strong dose of the run, very similarly to Tulsa. Leading rusher Latavius Murray has been excellent, totaling 810 yards (6.8 avg.) and 11 touchdowns. Backup Storm Johnson has rained on a few teams' parades as well, racking up 452 yards and four scores.
Sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles has been very solid, throwing for a shade under 2,200 yards, 17 touchdowns and just seven picks. Keep an eye on Bortles around the goal line too, as he might not run a lot but he has scampered for six scores this season. The way Bortles distributes the ball will be tough for TU to defend. 10 different Knights have caught touchdown passes this season, so the Hurricane won't have anyone to key in on. UCF won't do anything flashy, but what they do run will be strong and effective.
In similar fashion, the Golden Hurricane will need a strong running performance on Saturday in order to win. The three-headed attack of Trey Watts, Alex Singleton and Ja'Terian Douglas is one of the most dangerous rushing attacks in the country. The trio has combined for over 2,000 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns this season while quarterback Cody Green has three rushing scores of his own.
The Knights will have to overcome a rowdy crowd and a strong Hurricane football team in order to beat Tulsa for the first time since 2007.
Regardless of what happens Saturday, this is likely going to be a preview of the championship game in a few weeks. The two teams are so similar it's tough to give an accurate prediction, it's simply going to come down to a handful of plays that either TU makes or it doesn't. I'll be shocked if this game is a blowout for either side.
If the Golden Hurricane can turn the ball over fewer than two times, I like their chances to win. If the sloppiness that has crept in at times this season creeps in again Saturday, UCF would get the edge.
Listening to the TU players speak this week, they have the attitude of a team that's ready to make a statement.
I say they make it. I'll take Tulsa, 27-24.
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