DALLAS — Blake Bortles threw for 242 yards and ran for two touchdowns as No. 15 UCF celebrated a BCS bid already in hand by rallying to beat SMU 17-13 today in front of just a few hundred fans who braved a brutal ice storm.
With the school’s first BCS berth secured by Louisville’s win at Cincinnati Thursday, the Knights were sluggish before recovering for a school-record eighth straight win and the outright title in the first year of the American Athletic Conference.
UCF (11-1, 8-0 AAC) has both of the 34-year-old program’s 11-win seasons in the past four years. The Knights went 11-3 in 2010 and beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl.
SMU (5-7, 4-4) saw its record bowl streak end at four seasons in the coldest home game in school history — 24 degrees at kickoff. It matched the 1983 Sun Bowl in El Paso as SMU’s coldest game. It was UCF’s coldest game by far.
SMU quarterback Neal Burcham had 222 yards passing and a touchdown to Keenan Holman, who had 91 yards on six catches.
The wintry blast that virtually shut down the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Friday prompted officials to offer free admission. It didn’t help much, with fewer than 1,000 fans showing up for the game — far short of the announced attendance of 12,598.
The crowd stood throughout, but mostly because it was warmer that way. The east side of SMU’s campus stadium behind the UCF bench was empty.
There were a few UCF fans on the home side, and they were happy when Bortles scrambled around left end on a 15-yard run that put the Knights up 17-13 late in the third quarter and ended up being the deciding score.
SMU twice failed on fourth down in UCF territory in the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman Neal Burcham, making his second straight start for injured senior Garrett Gilbert, was stuffed and injured on fourth-and-1 with 8:22 remaining.
Garrett Krstich replaced him and threw incomplete deep on his first play. Two snaps later, Clayton Geathers made a diving interception, but Central Florida’s Shawn Moffitt hit the upright on a 24-yard field that would have put the Knights up by a touchdown.
Krstich still couldn’t move the Mustangs. He was forced to scramble on fourth-and-14 and came up well short with 59 seconds left. The Mustangs finished with their first losing record under coach June Jones since he went 1-11 after taking over the moribund program in 2008.
Players on both sidelines looked like they were in perpetual calisthenics trying to stay warm, surrounded by mounds of ice that had been cleared from the field. At halftime, one of SMU’s flag was planted in the ice in the south end zone.
The normally pass-happy Mustangs ran eight times on a 15-play, 59-yard drive to Chase Hover’s 33-yard field goal to start the game. Hover’s 39-yarder in the third quarter tied Eddie Garcia’s school record of 44 career field goals.