- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - If history is any kind of indicator, the UCF Knights’ American Athletic Conference opener Thursday night at Houston figures to be a close game.

The Knights (1-2) own a 4-1 record against the Cougars (2-2), but four of those five games have been decided by seven points or less. That includes last year’s 19-14 UCF victory which was decided in the final minute when the Knights defense held off Houston, which had a first-and-goal from the UCF 10.

“We’ve had a lot of close games in the past with Houston,” Knights linebacker Troy Gray said. “But this year coming up, we just need to make sure that we go out and establish our running game on offense and (our) passing game and the defense makes sure that we do our job and not make it so close.”

UCF is the defending AAC champion and has won four consecutive conference openers dating back to their time in Conference USA.

Knights coach George O’Leary was asked if the close matchups against Houston have turned the contest into a rivalry game.

“Every team in the American (Athletic) Conference is a rival for me,” O’Leary said. “That’s how I treat them. . We have one goal with the team and that’s to win the conference championship, so every game is critical.”

Thursday’s game will mark the first of four games UCF will play mid-week this season and the players say they get an extra charge out of being the only college game on national TV because it helps give friends, family and even their old high school coaches and teammates a chance to watch them play.

“The game isn’t on when other games are being played, so it’s kind of like a little spotlight, and it’s good for UCF,” Gray said. “It’s good for our school because it gives us a lot of exposure. . Just knowing that you have a lot of eyes on you is definitely exciting.”

UCF will be without wide receiver and return man Rannell Hall for the first half of Thursday’s game. Hall was ejected for a targeting penalty during the fourth quarter of the Knights’ 41-7 victory over Bethune-Cookman.

“I feel like Rannell does come in and make some big plays for us, but seeing the guys that we’ve got at receiver, I feel like we won’t skip a beat,” UCF senior tight end Justin Tukes said. “We’ve got Jackie Williams coming off the bench and he will definitely make a difference in the game, and then we’ve got Jordan Akins, a freshman who has been helping a lot.”

Tukes, in fact, marveled at the progress Akins has made since the summer when he was always asking questions.

“Now you hear him out at practice, and he’s telling me where to go,” Tukes said. “He’s correcting me, and I find it really funny when we come out and he does that. I just laugh. I’m very excited for where he’s at now and where he’s going in the future.”


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