NCF Nation: Kyle Padron

Season recap: SMU

December, 7, 2011

Record: 7-5, 5-3 C-USA

The season appeared as if it would be an improvement over 2010, when the Mustangs won the West Division and played in the Conference USA championship game. They got off to a 5-1 start, including a huge 40-33 overtime win over cross-town rival TCU, their first win over a ranked team since the 1980s. SMU also avenged a loss to UCF -- which beat the Mustangs in the C-USA title game a year ago.

But then things began to fall apart for an offense that is known for its high scoring. J.J. McDermott, who replaced Kyle Padron in the season opener, started to struggle and the Mustangs ended up losing four of their final six games. In three of those losses, SMU scored a touchdown or less, unheard of for a June Jones run 'n' shoot offense. SMU squeaked out a 27-24 win over Rice to get to seven wins in the regular season for the second straight year. But SMU was unable to beat Tulsa and Houston this year, its top competition in the West.

Still, getting to a third straight bowl game tied the school record for consecutive bowl appearances. For a program ravaged by the death penalty, that is a huge measure of how far this program has come.

Offensive MVP: Zach Line, RB. Line led Conference USA in rushing for the second straight season with 1,224 yards and scored a league-best 17 touchdowns in just 10 games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Still, he made the C-USA first team and was dependable all season long for an offense that struggled at times.

Defensive MVP: Taylor Thompson, DE. The Mustangs got a lot of clutch performances on defense, but Thompson was a C-USA first-team selection after leading the team with seven sacks and six forced fumbles -- that tied him for No. 3 in the nation.

Turning point: A 27-3 loss to Southern Miss. SMU only had 330 yards and 14 first downs in the loss, which started the slide at the end of the season. The Mustangs had opportunities in the second half, driving into Southern Miss territory twice, but they came away with no points. They also had nine penalties and were 4-of-13 on third downs.

What’s next: SMU plays Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and then it is off to prepare for a new conference home, as the Mustangs are reportedly set to join the Big East for 2013. Coach June Jones has been mentioned as a candidate at several openings, but has reportedly assured his staff he is staying. For how long is always a question that has surrounded him everywhere he has gone.

Midseason report: SMU

October, 11, 2011

Record: 4-1, 2-0 CUSA

The Mustangs made it to the Conference USA championship game last season, but now coach June Jones expects to win it. His team has its hands full in the West Division, but certainly the Mustangs have shown the potential to get back into the title game again this season. They have done it with a new quarterback. J.J. McDermott replaced an ineffective Kyle Padron in the season opener and has not let go of the starting job. McDermott has played well, throwing for 1,482 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions to rank No. 2 in CUSA in passing. Darius Johnson has proven to be a go-to receiver with 39 catches for 550 yards and four touchdowns, and leads the league in receptions per game and receiving yards a game. His teammate Cole Beasley is right behind him at No. 3 in both categories. Running back Zach Line once again is dominating on the ground, with 583 yards and 11 touchdowns already this season to lead CUSA. SMU has done a nice job on defense as well, ranking No. 2 in the league in total defense, giving up an average of 296.6 yards a game. Steps are being made, and none bigger than its 40-33 overtime win over cross-town rival TCU. It was the Mustangs' first win over a ranked team since defeating No. 22 TCU 21-10 in Dallas on Sept. 10, 2005. SMU is off to a 4-1 start for the first time since going 5-1 to begin the 1986 season. But the schedule has its challenges. The Mustangs get UCF this weekend in a rematch of last year's CUSA title game. They also have to play at Southern Miss, Tulsa and Houston. But the Mustangs have proved they can play with anybody. Will that translate into an even bigger milestone for the program this season?

Offensive MVP: RB Zach Line. You are making me choose just one? It was a tough call between Line and Johnson, but I am going with the guy who leads the league in scoring with 66 points. He has been incredibly valuable and durable once again.

Defensive MVP: LB Ja'Gared Davis. Plenty of candidates for this one as well. Taylor Thompson is third in the league with five sacks, and Taylor Reed leads the team with 39 tackles. But Davis has done a little bit of everything -- he has 28 tackles, including four for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also has an interception, forced and recovered a fumble and has six passes defended.

Swope taking over for Aggies receivers

September, 4, 2011
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles (14 receptions, 158 yards, touchdown) and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon (11 receptions, 144 yards) had big debuts for the Big 12's strongest position: receiver.

At Texas A&M, you'd expect those kinds of numbers to come from the league's No. 3 receiver, Jeff Fuller, but early on, it's been slot man Ryan Swope making big plays downfield, underneath and on bubble screens.

He's caught six passes for 88 yards and a touchdown already, but he took over on Texas A&M's last touchdown drive that has the Aggies ahead 27-14 midway through the second quarter.

He caught four passes for 53 yards and ad-libbed on a broken play for a 28-yard score to finish the drive.

Fuller has only been targeted once so far, and drew a pass interference penalty in the end zone. The Aggies haven't thrown downfield much, but are working shorter screens and bubble routes early.

New SMU quarterback J.J. McDermott led the Mustangs on touchdown drives in his first two drives, but he's been high on a good percentage of his throws so far. For now, Kyle Padron is still on the bench.

After the score, McDermott was sacked twice and the Ponies went three-and-out. We might see Padron again before too long.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
Here are ten things I'm keeping an eye on in Week 1 of Big 12 football.

1. Garrett Gilbert. Everything else aside, Gilbert is ultimately the one guy who will decide how far Texas gets this season. Or, at least whoever Texas' quarterback is by midseason. Gilbert needs to play well to a) make sure he's that guy and b) help Texas rebound from last year's debacle.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Gilbert
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireThe success of Texas' season likely rides on the shoulders of Garrett Gilbert ... or his replacement.
2. Does Baylor have a second go-to receiver? Josh Gordon is a huge loss. Everything pointed to a breakout year for the big receiver, but who's going to emerge as Robert Griffin III's other top target. Baylor has talent at the position, but it's going to help if one receiver makes his presence clear. Terrance Williams? Tevin Reese? Lanear Sampson? Bueller?

3. Oklahoma's safeties. Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin have a ton of potential, but they've got a tough test in Week 1. Last year, Oklahoma broke in two brand new corners against Utah State and nearly was upset on its home field. G.J. Kinne is a stud, and with both of last year's safeties in the NFL, are Harris and Colvin up for the task?

4. Weeden2Blackmon. Here's the deal: This game won't be close. But I love watching these two play. And they're going to be putting up some big highlights for the first time in eight months. Football! Finally!

5. James Franklin's arm. We've seen Franklin run plenty as a freshman playing behind Blaine Gabbert. But Missouri will go about as far as Franklin's arm will take them. His teammates have been impressed with what he's down through the air in the offseason. Will he validate them in the opener?

6. Steele Jantz's legs. Nobody outside Ames has really seen Jantz, a transfer from a California junior college, do much. But he won the starting job over the more experienced Jerome Tiller (before he was ruled academically ineligible for the season) and has Cyclones fans excited. Is he the dynamic playmaker Iowa State's offense has been missing?

7. Kansas State's running backs. Bill Snyder called it the closest competition on the team. The WIldcats have three co-starters, and third on the list is the Big 12 transfer with the most hype: Bryce Brown. Will he establish himself as the clear replacement for Daniel Thomas, who led the Big 12 in rushing the past two seasons?

8. Kansas' point total. Kansas simply needs to show it can execute. It did it against New Mexico State last year and briefly against Colorado, but this is largely the same team from last year, with a handful of new faces added. How much better is the offense? Good enough to compete in the Big 12? Because the Jayhawks weren't close in 2010.

9. Texas A&M's linebackers. Most of the attention is paid to quarterback Kyle Padron, but the Mustangs' 230-pound, rumbling running back Zach Line is no joke, either. He had at least 94 yards rushing in six of the past seven games in 2010, and the Aggies have a big hole at middle linebacker that Jonathan Stewart will try to fill.

10. Texas Tech's playcalling. Tommy Tuberville wants a new commitment to the running game, but where will that show up? The Red Raiders have what I think will be a good QB, but lots of unanswered questions at receiver next to a deep stable of running backs and a good offensive line. I'm also excited to see what freshman tight end Jace Amaro can do.


May, 17, 2011
Next up in our look at potential BCS busters out of Conference USA is SMU, a team coach June Jones believes is on the doorstep of breaking into the system the way he did with Hawaii back in 2007. Jones has the experience of taking a team to a BCS game that nobody else does in C-USA, which should give his Mustangs an advantage. Plus, he gets to recruit in Texas, a place that is overflowing with talent. If TCU can do it in the Mountain West, why not SMU in C-USA?

Why they have a shot: The Mustangs are getting closer and closer to where Jones wants them to be now that they are in Year 4 of his program. SMU made it to the C-USA title game last season, which was earlier than even Jones anticipated. Kyle Padron has shown improvement, and Jones expects him to take the next step this season. That means connecting on more big plays in the passing game. Cole Beasley emerged as a 1,000-yard receiver last season and he is going to be even more vital in 2011. Zach Line proved to be an excellent back with 1,494 yards in 2010, and the defense returns solid players in Ja'Gared Davis, Taylor Reed, Margus Hunt and Chris Banjo. Jones said Davis and Reed have put in "unbelievable work" in the offseason. "They were good last year, and they're better now," Jones said.

Why they won't make it: The Mustangs still lack depth on the offensive and defensive lines and need a big-play receiver to replace Aldrick Robinson. The lack of depth is most concerning to Jones, but he knows it takes time to rebuild there, especially when you have inherited a losing program. The nonconference schedule is tough, with games at Texas A&M and at TCU and a home game against Navy. The TCU game actually begins a difficult four-game stretch. After playing the Horned Frogs, SMU gets a week off before hosting UCF, then it travels to Southern Miss and Tulsa. SMU also has to play Houston on the road on Nov. 19. The Mustangs start on the road at Texas A&M on Sunday night, Sept. 4. A loss there and a BCS season most likely ends.

Previously profiled

We want to hear from you the next few days, so be sure to vote in all the polls we are putting out there. Up next: Which non-AQ player will be most improved in 2011?

As is the case with all of them, it was difficult to whittle the list down to five. I chose these players based on interviews with coaches and spring performances. Coach Gary Patterson praised defensive end Braylon Broughton for his improvement this spring as he steps in for Wayne Daniels. Devon Wylie returns for his senior season and could be a go-to player for new quarterback Derek Carr at Fresno State.

Kyle Padron has had two good seasons and is poised to have an excellent one for SMU, so long as his offensive line comes together and gives him time to throw. Jake Heaps is the full-time starter at BYU and has a new offensive coordinator in Brandon Doman. His maturation and leadership in the spring encouraged not only his coaches but his teammates. He could be poised to have a 3,000-yard season much in the way of his predecessors.

My vote on this one would go to Boise State receiver Geraldo Hiwat. We have to remember he has only been playing football since high school after coming to the United States from the Netherlands. He has tremendous upside. At 6-foot-4, has the ability to be a big-play receiver with his speed and a possession receiver with his size. Much is expected of him this season.

SMU starting to believe

April, 29, 2011
SMU has had one of the youngest teams in the country the past several years as coach June Jones has relied on talented freshmen and sophomores to rejuvenate the program.

While Jones plans on doing the same at some positions in 2011, he can rely more on returning starters who have been in the program for several years and finally understand what it takes to win. The Mustangs are coming off an appearance in the Conference USA championship game and the next step is to win a title.

Could it happen in Year 4 under Jones?

“In the next two years, hopefully we'll put together a run like we had in Hawaii or a run like TCU had,” Jones said in a phone interview. “That's what the goal is. We don't have the depth at some of the positions that you have to have to really do that, but we're real close to making a statement.”

[+] EnlargeKyle Padron
AP Photo/John RaouxProtecting quarterback Kyle Padron will be important for SMU in 2011.
Jones anticipates playing 15 freshmen once again, especially on the offensive line, which is still an area of concern because of a lack of depth. The Mustangs gave up 34 sacks last season, ranking No. 86 in the nation, and that had an impact on quarterback Kyle Padron, who was hit and knocked down more times than any coach wants.

Padron had another good season, throwing for 3,828 yards with 31 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. But his completion percentage and quarterback rating were down, and he made questionable decisions at times. As SMU goes into its final spring practice with a scrimmage Saturday, Padron won’t see a lot of reps.

But he has worked on plenty. One of the areas of emphasis has been taking advantage of big plays when they are there.

“Every year a quarterback plays, they get better,” Jones said. “The biggest thing is accuracy on the vertical throws down the field. We had many opportunities to make big plays. It's hard to get big plays in this day and age so when you have them, you have to hit them. From now until the fall, he will be throwing the deep ball. You have to do it over and over and repeat it until you don't have to think about it.”

SMU will have to get those big plays without leading receiver Aldrick Robinson. But Cole Beasley and Darius Johnson return. Der’rikk Thompson has taken many reps at Robinson’s position and will probably replace him. Jones said Thompson can run a 4.3 40-yard dash, so he could be exactly what the Mustangs need.

Leading rusher Zach Line hasn’t practiced this spring, but he does return to help give the offense an added dimension. His emergence led to Darryl Fields and Kevin Pope playing both running back and linebacker this spring, and Jones anticipates both contributing on defense this season.

As for the growth of his team, Jones has been pleased. Expectations have been raised with back-to-back bowl appearances, and this season SMU is expected to contend for the West Division with Houston and Tulsa.

“Now we have guys who are acting like they belong instead of hoping they belong,” Jones said. “When you come out of the tunnel, one team is hoping they're going to win and the other believes they're going to win. We’re getting to the point where were' starting to believe. You can see that swagger, that walk.”

Top non-AQ players, offense

January, 24, 2011
Wanted to give you a quick rundown of the top non-AQ players in the final NCAA statistics for offense. Many of these players will be back for 2011, but many will be gone.

First let us take a look at rushing. Four non-AQ players finished in the Top 10 in yards per game:

No. 3 Bobby Rainey, Western Kentucky (137.4)

No. 6 Lance Dunbar, North Texas (129.4)

No. 7 Vai Taua, Nevada (123.85)

No. 10 Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State (117.9)

Taua is the only player who does not return next season. Hillman was a true freshman and many expect him to have an even better season. Rainey and Dunbar will both be seniors and vying once again to be the best running back in the Sun Belt. With Dunbar, it will be interesting to see how he fairs under new coach Dan McCarney, though offensive coordinator Mike Canales remains onboard. Rainey carried the ball a nation-leading 340 times last season. Can he handle another strenuous workload in 2011?

At quarterback, seven of the top 11 players in total passing yards were non-AQ players:

No. 1 Bryant Moniz, Hawaii, 5,040 yards

No. 4. Dominique Davis, East Carolina, 3,967

No. 6 Kellen Moore, Boise State, 3,845

No. 7 Ryan Lindley, San Diego State, 3,830

No. 8 Kyle Padron, SMU, 3,828

t. No. 9 Corey Robinson, Troy, 3,726

No. 11. G.J. Kinne, Tulsa, 3,650

I stretched this list all the way to 11 to show the depth of quality quarterbacks among the non-AQs. Although big-name players like Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick are gone, every player on this list returns to school next season, which means non-AQ quarterbacks will definitely be ones to watch again. But what is interesting is their receiver situation. Everybody but Kinne is losing his leading receiver. In the case of Moore, he loses two in Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Moniz loses Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, and Lindley loses DeMarco Sampson and Vincent Brown.

At receiver, seven of the top 100 players in total yards also came from non-AQ schools:

No. 1 Salas, 1,889 yards

No. 5 Jordan White, Western Michigan, 1,378

No. 6 Brown, 1,352

No. 7 Pilares, 1,306

No. 8 Aldrick Robinson, SMU, 1,301

10. Sampson, 1,220

11. Young, 1,215

Ssix of these players are definitely done with their college careers. The one up in the air is White, who is petitioning the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver and sixth season of eligibility. White had serious injuries to both his knees and sat out 2006 and 2008, so it seems likely his waiver will be granted. He set the school record for receiving yards in 2010.

Instant Analysis: Army 16, SMU 14

December, 30, 2010
Army beat SMU 16-14 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: SMU did itself in with way too many mistakes. Kyle Padron had three first-half turnovers -- two interceptions and a fumble -- that led to 10 points. His first was a fumble that Josh McNary returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Army did an excellent job getting pressure on him all day, forcing him into many of those mistakes. Padron regrouped and played a much better game in the second half, rallying SMU to two touchdowns. But Matt Szymanski missed a 47-yard field goal wide left with 4:05 to play that would have given the Mustangs the win. Couple that with a missed field goal in the first half, and you have a recipe for a loss. Army was unable to do much with the triple option in the second half, which is why the Mustangs had a chance. But give the Black Knights credit for taking advantage of the mistakes and posting the first winning season at the Academy since 1996.

Turning point: Down 16-14, SMU had a third-and-9 at the Army 33 with a little more than four minutes to go. Padron was flushed out of the pocket and nearly sacked, but the pressure only allowed him to throw a dump off pass to Darius Johnson for 3 yards. Rather than go for it, SMU decided to go for the 47-yard field goal attempt into the wind for Szymanski, who missed. That decided the game.

Stat of the game: Zero. Penalties and turnovers for Army in the game.

Player of the game: McNary. In addition to his fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, he led an aggressive defensive effort that continually harassed Padron all day. The Army defense came up big when it needed to to preserve the win.

What SMU learned: Padron has got to work on his consistency for SMU to take the next step. In this game and the Conference USA championship game, he made too many mistakes. The offensive line needs major improvement, too, because he was completely harassed and pressured in both those games. But June Jones had done a great job taking SMU to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1984-85 and he does have a nice nucleus returning next season in Padron, Zach Line and Johnson on offense.

What Army learned: Army (7-6) not only beat a winning team for the first time this season, it won its first bowl game since 1985. Coach Rich Ellerson has done a terrific job turning around a program that had suffered mightily since its last winning season in 1996. The senior class made it a point to bring respectability back to West Point, and they did that and more. It was not good enough to make it to a bowl game for Army. The Black Knights wanted a win, and they deserved it against SMU. Trent Steelman and Jared Hassin return next season, so bigger things could be in store for the cadets.

What it means: All three service academies finish with seven or more wins for just the second time in history. It happened in 1963: Army, 7-3; Navy, 9-2; Air Force, 7-4.

Record performance: Army fullback Jared Hassin went over 1,000 yards on the season, the second Army sophomore to break the mark, joining Mike Mayweather in 1988. It is the 14th 1,000-yard season in Army history.


You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys each for SMU and Army headed into the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday:


1. Pressure the quarterback. Army has just two sacks in its last four games, but is going to have to put pressure on quarterback Kyle Padron to have a chance in this game. Padron threw for over 3,500 yards but still has trouble at times reading blitzes and defenses. An aggressive game plan could also hide some problems in the secondary and take pressure off the cornerbacks and safeties from making big plays against Aldrick Robinson and Darius Johnson.

2. Ball control. The triple-option is a ball control offense, and Army is going to need a heavy dose of that to keep the high-octane run 'n' shoot SMU offense off the field. The longer the Black Knights hold the ball, the fewer opportunities SMU has to score. Quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Jared Hassin are perfectly capable of making big, grind-it-out plays. This offense is simply not built to get into a shootout.

3. Force turnovers. Army ranks seventh in the nation in turnover margin and has recovered 15 fumbles this season. As we saw in the Independence Bowl, Air Force beat a favored Georgia Tech team that turned the ball over four times. Army is 5-2 this season when it wins the turnover battle. SMU is one of the worst in the country in turnover margin, and Padron had thrown 13 interceptions this season. So Army has to be extra vigilant about forcing mistakes.


1. Contain the triple option. Always easier said than done of course, but that is goal No. 1 headed into this game. The SMU defense had some struggles against Navy earlier in the season, especially on pitches to the outside. Pete Fleps and Taylor Reed are going to be responsible for getting that corrected. Steelman and Hassin have combined for 1,625 yards, ranking 11th on the Army all-time rushing duo chart.

2. Beware the pass. The SMU defense can’t focus so much on the run that it forgets all about the pass. Steelman has completed 54.8 percent of his throws (69-for-126) for 965 yards, seven touchdowns and only three interceptions. If he can throw for 35 yards against the Mustangs, he will become the first Army player to rush for 500-plus yards and throw for 1,000-plus yards in the same season.

3. Take pressure of Padron. Zach Line has done a great job in the run game for SMU this season, rushing for 1,391 yards. He led the conference in rushing and is going to need to take some pressure off Padron. The offensive line is also going to have to play a better game than it did against UCF in the Conference USA championship game. He has been sacked 31 times this season, including five times against the Knights.
SMU coach June Jones and Army coach Rich Ellerson go way back to their playing days in Hawaii, and the Mustangs are playing on their home field in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday. But that is the only bit of familiarity in this game. The two teams run distinct offenses and are newcomers to the recent bowl scene. The Mustangs are in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1983-84, while Army is in a bowl game for the first time since 1996. SMU is not exactly thrilled about the opportunity to stay at home for its bowl game, so motivation could be a factor for the Mustangs.

WHO TO WATCH: SMU QB Kyle Padron. The last time we saw him, Padron was getting hammered into the ground by an aggressive UCF defense in the Conference USA championship game. He finished with 220 yards passing and completed a season-low 52.9 percent of his passes while throwing two interceptions. SMU needs a good game out of him because he makes the run 'n' shoot offense go. He did throw for more than 3,500 yards this season, so he has the talent.

WHAT TO WATCH: SMU defense versus Army triple option. SMU faced one triple-option team already this season -- losing 28-21 to Navy in October in a seesaw game. The Mustangs gave up 253 yards rushing, but were able to contain Navy in the first half, holding the Midshipmen without a point. But SMU had problems with the outside pitches, and you can bet that was a point of emphasis going into this game. The linebackers especially are going to have to stay disciplined and limit the big plays on the ground to contain this offense.

WHY TO WATCH: Classic matchup of passing versus running in this one should make it quite an interesting battle. Army has had a resurgent season, and SMU is making steady progress under Jones after the wasteland that defined the program following devastating NCAA sanctions in the 1980s.

PREDICTION:SMU 30, Army 20. The Mustangs have more talent and are more explosive on offense with the run 'n' shoot and that makes the difference in the game.

Armed Forces Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Southern Methodist Mustangs (7-6) vs. Army Black Knights (6-5)

Dec. 30, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)

This is Army's first bowl appearance since 1996, and Trent Steelman and Jared Hassin have led the way with the triple option this season. Steelman has made tremendous strides, rushing for 620 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing for 837 yards and five touchdowns, while Hassin is a transfer from the Air Force Academy and leads the team with 881 yards on the ground.

This is actually a great matchup between two of the most diverse offenses you can think of because SMU uses the run 'n' shoot. But don't sleep on the Mustangs’ running game. Zach Line leads Conference USA in rushing, and SMU has done a good job of relying on him to help open up the passing game. But Saturday in the C-USA championship game, SMU managed just seven points. Quarterback Kyle Padron has been inconsistent this season and the biggest reason is his inability to hit the big plays downfield.

Coach June Jones has said they if had been able to hit some of those long balls, receiver Aldrick Robinson would be averaging 35 yards a catch.
Instead, he's averaging just less than 20. This is a very young team with only four senior starters. It’s also the first time SMU is in back-to-back bowl games since 1983-84. This also serves as a home game for SMU because the game was moved to its home field, Gerald Ford Stadium, while renovations to TCU home field Amon G. Carter are completed. SMU has had trouble stopping the Navy triple option, losing to the Midshipmen two straight seasons.

UCF stifles SMU in C-USA title game

December, 4, 2010
ORLANDO, Fla. -- They did it with a running back who nearly quit the team.

With a teenager at quarterback.

With a defense eager to make a statement.

With a group of players who have spent their entire careers reading headlines not about them, but about Florida, Florida State and Miami.

To say this UCF group is special would be selling them short. The way they played in a 17-7 win over SMU in the Conference USA championship game Saturday, the Knights proved they are eager to shed their underachiever label and build something lasting here in Orlando.

“Traditions start this way,” UCF coach George O’Leary said.

Yes, traditions start with back-to-back winning seasons -- a first since O’Leary became coach in 2004.

[+] EnlargeLatavius Murray
AP Photo/John RaouxCentral Florida's Latavius Murray (28) dives over the goal line past SMU's Richard Crawford for a 5-yard TD reception in the first half.
With a second Conference USA title in four seasons. With a player like Jeff Godfrey, a true freshman quarterback who has done more than anybody expected.

With a player like Latavius Murray, who went from nearly leaving the team because he was homesick in 2009 to game MVP after gaining 94 yards and a touchdown.

With a player like cornerback Josh Robinson, burned so many times this season on the deep ball but who got the ultimate redemption Saturday with a key interception and two huge pass break-ups.

Those three players return next season, along with a host of other young studs. The depth is there moreso than after the 2007 championship. UCF followed up that season with a 4-8 record.

Doing that again is unacceptable if you want to make noise in this state. Yes, UCF is losing a dynamic senior class, one that established something for the rest to follow. But the Knights have plenty to build on, and that has left them anticipating more.

“I see us back in this same position for the next three years,” said Godfrey, who went 15-of-19 for 167 yards with a touchdown. “We just have to work hard to do our assignments and just get the job done.”

Inconsistency has wracked this program, but perhaps the Knights are turning the corner. When asked if there was something different that O’Leary did this season to get his team going, he slyly said, “Yes, Jeff Godfrey.”

Godfrey broke Jacory Harris’ passing record in Miami-Dade County, but was overlooked by the major players in this state because he was only 5-foot-11. He chose UCF because he would be allowed to play quarterback, and because he wanted to help put this program on the map.

Though he went into the season behind veteran Rob Calabrese, it was clear immediately that he was the future of this program. On Saturday, he helped UCF win the time of possession battle, especially with some of his scrambles to keep drives alive.

When it was all over, he leaped into the stands, soaking in the adoration and admiration. Fans have embraced his poise and leadership, and even have printed up with T-shirts that have the slogan, “In Godfrey We Trust.”

[+] EnlargeDarius Johnson
AP Photo/John RaouxCentral Florida's defense, including Josh Robinson, left, and Kemal Ishmael (18), put the wraps on Darius Johnson and SMU.
But on this afternoon, the story was the stifling UCF defense. Much of the talk going into the game was about the SMU run 'n' shoot. UCF linebacker Derrick Hallman said his teammates wanted to put a stop to that.

Boy, did they do that. UCF sacked Padron five times, hurried him six times, broke up six passes and intercepted him twice. Robinson got a crucial interception late in the third quarter with SMU in UCF territory and down 17-0.

After scoring a touchdown to close it to 17-7, SMU had its chances to try to score again. But Padron threw another interception, this one by Reggie Weams in the middle of the field.

SMU's final drive started with 3:41 to go. But Padron had several passes broken up in the end zone and was sacked three times on the drive. Fittingly, he was sacked on the Mustangs’ final play.

“Their front seven is pretty impressive,” said Padron, who went 18-of-34 for 220 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Aldrick Robinson, his top receiver, was limited to just three catches for 43 yards and a score.

That makes four years in a row that the best defensive team has won the C-USA title. UCF held SMU to its lowest point total since coach June Jones’ first season in 2008.

“This game wasn’t about their offense,” Hallman said. “This game was about us. We wanted to set a trademark out there and let people know how good we are.”

Now UCF has to keep that going.

Final: UCF 17, SMU 7

December, 4, 2010
ORLANDO, Fla. -- UCF earned its second Conference USA championship with a gutsy defensive performance.

The Knights dominated SMU en route to a 17-7 win in the Conference USA title game for their first league title since 2007. UCF completely stymied the SMU run 'n' shoot and shut down league leading rusher Zach Line, getting two interceptions, five sacks and harassing Kyle Padron all game.

Not only that, the Knights took away top receiving option Aldrick Robinson, who had three total catches. Padron had costly mistakes that hurt, including several passes broken up in the end zone. He threw one interception at the UCF 27 late in the third quarter, down 17-0. Then after SMU closed it to 17-7, the Mustangs held the Knights and got the ball back.

But Padron threw another interception on third-and-10 from his own 20, on a pass that was slightly overthrown down the middle for Darius Johnson. Reggie Weams essentially took the ball out of Johnson's hands and gave UCF the ball at the SMU 30 with 5:07 to play.

After the Knights missed a 52-yard field goal, SMU tried to get closer. But fittingly, Padron was sacked on fourth down deep in UCF territory with 10 seconds left, ending any chance of a comeback. UCF has now tied the school record for wins in a season with 10. SMU drops to 7-6.

UCF running back Latavius Murray was named the MVP.

SMU gets on the board

December, 4, 2010
ORLANDO, Fla. -- SMU finally got on the board in the Conference USA championship game Saturday and inched its way back early in the fourth quarter against UCF.

Kyle Padron put together his best drive of the game, capping it with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Aldrick Robinson to make it 17-7. Robinson made an athletic grab over Justin Boddie to run in for the score. It was only Robinson's second catch of the day but it came at the perfect time, with SMU in desperate need of a score to stay in the game.

Robinson now has a touchdown reception in seven straight games. UCF had done an excellent job shutting him down all game with Boddie and Josh Robinson combining to limit Aldrick Robinson to just two catches on the day.

But Padron was less erratic on this last drive, going 5-of-7 for 66 yards and a touchdown. On SMU's previous drive, he had converted a fourth down to Keenan Holman to the UCF 27. But on the next play, Josh Robinson stepped in front of a pass for Aldrick Robinson and got the interception.