C-USA notebook: Central Florida off to good start in final season in conference

Down 14-0 in its first step toward leaving Conference USA on a championship note, Central Florida delivered a powerful statement.O.J. McDuffie answered two early East Carolina touchdowns with a 99-yard kickoff return and later added a 64-yard TD reception to pace the Knights to a 40-20 victory. The win not only got UCF (3-2, 1-0) off on a good foot in its final year in C-USA, it also kept ECU (3-3, 2-1) from jumping to an early 3-0 lead.Entering today's action, the Knights are tied with Marshall (2-3, 1-0) atop the East Division."I think we have a team that perseverance-wise is very resilient," said UCF coach George O'Leary. "Especially after last week [a 21-16 loss to Missouri], you go down 14-0 right away, I think we have a good group of seniors that hung in there and again I thought that kickoff return couldn't have occurred at a better time."Blake Bortles went 15 of 21 for 269 yards and the long TD to McDuffie. Latavius Murray rejoined the running back rotation, but is playing second fiddle to Storm Johnson, who has rushed for 333 yards and three touchdowns in five games.ECU was held to two field goals, five punts, one interception and one stoppage on downs in its final nine possessions.
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  • C-USA has ceded a bowl spot in the 2012-13 lineup, in changes to the former TicketCity Bowl announced this week.Heart of Dallas, a new nonprofit organization, assumed naming rights for the New Year's Day game. Under previously announced terms, a C-USA team was to face a team from the Big Ten; now, C-USA has a secondary arrangement with the bowl for this season, but is slated to have a spot against the Big Ten on Jan. 1, 2014.This probably isn't a bad season for C-USA to drop to five "guaranteed" bowls, though. Entering today's action, eight teams were two or more games under .500.The nonprofit group is also sponsoring the Heart of Dallas Kickoff Classic, pitting C-USA newcomer Louisiana Tech against Army on Sept. 28, 2013.
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  • In today's games:
  • Southern Mississippi (0-4, 0-1) will find righting its sinking season won't be any easier with a visit from Boise State. The Golden Eagles hung tough last week against Louisville, leading in a game-long downpour until the Cardinals scored the winning touchdown with 5:35 left. ... The Eagles started their third different quarterback this season, but redshirt freshman Ricky Lloyd didn't do much better - 2 of 8 for 25 yards.
  • Rice (1-4, 0-2) visits Memphis (0-4, 0-0) as Taylor McHargue returns at quarterback for the Owls. Without McHargue, Rice was powerless against Houston, losing 35-14.
  • Houston (1-3, 1-0) hosts North Texas in a battle of C-USA defectors and 2013 C-USA entrants. Andrew Rodriguez, a promising true freshman receiver, is out at least a month with a leg injury. That throws his status for the Marshall game (Nov. 17) into question.
  • Southern Methodist (1-3, 0-0), coming off a 24-16 loss to Texas Christian, opens its league season against Texas-El Paso (1-4, 0-1).
  • Tulane (0-4, 0-1) will try to improve on its minus-9 yards rushing in a 63-10 loss to Louisiana-Monroe when it takes on Louisiana-Lafayette.
  • Alabama-Birmingham (0-4, 0-1) will try to dent the win column against Southeastern Louisiana.
  • Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com">dougsmock@wvgazette.com or following him at twitter.com/dougsmock. 
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