And when running back Kevin Smith finally emerged, the fans serenaded him.
- Kevin Smith leads UCF to Conference USA crown
- One of 4 SEC teams will face UCF in Liberty Bowl
- Pictures: UCF Knights vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- Pictures: UCF Knights vs. Temple Owls
- Pictures: UCF Knights vs. Houston Cougars
- Pictures: UCF fans and tailgaters
See more photos »
- Kevin Smith
- George O'Leary
- Bright House Networks
Who could possibly blame them for wanting the day's hero to return for his senior season? On Saturday, Smith rushed for 284 yards and four touchdowns to lead UCF to its first conference title and earn most valuable player honors.
"There's no better feeling than winning a championship with our teammates," Smith said. "It'll last a lifetime."
For now, Smith said he hasn't decided whether he'll go pro or return to school. He has the upcoming Liberty Bowl to think about, and he'll also seek input from his head coach, George O'Leary.
But if Saturday was his last game at Bright House Networks Stadium, he left UCF fans with one sweet memory. He scored on runs of 3, 46, 4 and 74 yards; on the last touchdown, his 74-yard sprint down the right sideline, he even fought through a facemask penalty.
"He's a great running back," said Tulsa linebacker Chris Chamberlain. "It seemed like we had him tackled, and he's just a strong running back who was able to break free. Give him a lot of credit."
Heisman Trophy voters must turn in their ballots by late Wednesday afternoon, and given Smith's relative anonymity in other regions of the country, he probably won't be invited to the ceremony in Manhattan.
Still, how can you argue with his statistics? His 39 carries Saturday upped his season total to 415 and broke Marcus Allen's single-season Division I-A record for rushing attempts.
Smith also now has 2,448 yards rushing this season, second all-time in Division I-A; he trails only Barry Sanders, who ran for 2,628 yards in 1988.
No wonder UCF's Kyle Israel said, "I have the easiest quarterback job in the entire country, handing the ball off to that guy."
Smith deflected the praise thrown just as easily as he deflected Tulsa's defensive players.
"You can't run up the sideline without a hole," Smith said. "I was lucky, I guess."
Anyone who watched Saturday's game knows better.
Josh Robbins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.