It may be just one game, but there is a lot on the line for the Golden Hurricane when UCF comes to town Saturday. The Knights, riding a six-game winning streak, enter with an identical record as Tulsa, 8-2 overall and 6-0 in Conference USA play.
Both teams can clinch their respective divisions with a win Saturday or a win in their season finales; but the former of those two scenarios is much more appealing for TU. In case of a loss, Tulsa would be forced to face a tough SMU team that, if it beats Rice this Saturday, would snatch the West title with a win over the Golden Hurricane.
UCF has a home date with UAB as its insurance game, which is about as easy as it gets in C-USA.
So essentially, Saturday's winner will have the luxury of treating its final game of the season as a meaningless exhibition, while the loser will be forced into a must-win scenario.
In Tulsa's case, a win would give coach Bill Blankenship a lot of leeway against the Mustangs. Blankenship would have an opportunity to rest some banged-up players and give young guys valuable playing time in the season's final week.
But as nice as that sounds, it might not even be the biggest perk of winning this game.
A win would also secure home-field advantage over UCF (assuming both teams make it) for the conference title game; an edge that would be huge for the Hurricane. TU has won 11 of its past 12 conference home games, while UCF is just 3-4 on the road over the past two seasons.
A Tulsa loss would put the title game in Orlando; a place UCF has won 14 of its past 16 conference games. This certainly doesn't mean the Golden Hurricane couldn't go to Florida and beat the Knights, but it would be nice if they didn't have to.
Everything the Golden Hurricane has accomplished already this season has led them to this game. Receiver Jordan James understands the importance of continuing to win and keeping the title game in Tulsa.
"We've run the table up to this point and this is where we wanted to be," James said. "It seems like everything is kind of shaping up the way we thought it would. We just have to finish."
Watching TU's 41-7 blowout of Houston, it was clear this Hurricane team played with a sense of urgency that has eluded it most of the season. The mistakes were few and far between while the players looked more focused than ever. TU's all-time interception leader, safety Dexter McCoil, knows crunch time has arrived.
"That's one of the biggest goals we worked hard for in the offseason, what you really work hard for every season: to win your conference," McCoil said. "That's a big thing, especially for me, being here four years and never getting that opportunity to get a conference championship."
Blankenship echoed McCoil's thoughts
"The guys that have been playing for four years, they've been talking about a conference championship. (They) haven't experienced it," Blankenship said. "There's a void in their experience here at the University of Tulsa and I think that void needs to be filled."
The Golden Hurricane can take a large step closer to filling that void with a win Saturday.