No. 25 UCF tests ranking against Southern Miss

ANTONIO GONZALEZ - Associated Press
The Associated Press
In this photo taken Oct. 30, 2010,  Central Florida quarterback Jeff Godfrey throws a pass during an NCAA college football game against East Carolina in Orlando, Fla. Starting as a true freshman quarterback, Godfrey has guided No. 25 Central Florida to its first national ranking. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
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In this photo taken Oct. 30, 2010, Central Florida quarterback Jeff Godfrey throws a pass during an NCAA college football game against East Carolina in Orlando, Fla. Starting as a true freshman quarterback, Godfrey has guided No. 25 Central Florida to its first national ranking.

After he and his teammates stopped celebrating their program's first national ranking, Central Florida defensive end Bruce Miller began to look at the rest of the Knights' schedule: Southern Miss, at Tulane at Memphis. Just how far could they climb?

Maybe Top 15. Maybe higher?

"I've thought about it a little bit to see how far we'd go if we finished the season with wins," Miller said. "It'd be nice to see us get up pretty high."

First things first.

No. 25 UCF takes the field for the first time in 31 years of football with a national ranking Saturday, facing Southern Miss. On the line is not just the Knights' spot in the AP Top 25, but a chance to move closer to securing a place in the Conference USA title game.

The Knights (7-2, 5-0) have averaged 41.4 points per game over their last five games — all wins — to vault into the AP rankings for the first time in 15 seasons of Division I football, now called the Football Bowl Subdivision. The program began in Division III in 1979.

The offensive outpouring is in large part a product of Jeff Godfrey, the highest-rated true freshman quarterback in the nation with a passer rating of 152.14. The dual-threat quarterback didn't even start the first two games this season — and shared snaps in the next four — but has 1,300 yards passing, 499 yards rushing and a team-high 12 touchdowns.

"I never doubted this is where we'd be," Godfrey said. "We want to keep going."

This matchup doesn't have quite the same implications for both teams as it has in years past.

UCF can clinch the Conference USA East Division with a win over Southern Miss and an East Carolina loss to UAB. The Knights can afford to lose a game and still make the league title game, but they want to remain the only unbeaten team in conference play and host the championship game.

Southern Miss (6-3, 3-2), meanwhile, can keeps its slim hopes of an East title alive. But it also would need UCF to lose again, and East Carolina to lose twice.

"We are looking for weaknesses and cannot find any, to be honest with you," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "Offensively, they have scored about 40 points in each of the last five games so they are really hitting on all cylinders there."

But a Golden Eagles win wouldn't come as a surprise.

Their only two Conference USA loses have come by a combined two points — 44-43 to East Carolina and 50-49 in double overtime to UAB — and they are certainly a talented bunch. But they're also the most penalized team in the league, drawing nearly eight penalties a game for 82.9 yards, and at times have imploded offensively.

"If we do everything we expect to do and everyone executes, we can come out on top," Southern Miss running back Tracy Lampley said.

As if they needed any, the Knights will have some extra incentives.

The game is the regular-season home finale for UCF, which means the contest will double as Senior Day. And nothing is more important to the team's 19 seniors than going out with a national ranking.

The Knights have been in the shadows of the state's Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for decades. While Florida is No. 24 in the AP poll, Miami and Florida State are unranked.

UCF has a chance, with a little help from the Big Three, to finish this season as the highest-ranked team in football-crazy Florida. The challenge is sustaining the momentum.

"We've wanted the ranking for a while and getting more respect around the country," Miller said. "It's nice to have, but we have to focus on Southern Miss or we'll be out of there."