ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — For all the success that Central Florida has had in its seven previous seasons in Conference USA, consistent victories against Southern Mississippi hasn't been one of them.
The Knights (3-2, 1-0) and the Golden Eagles (0-5, 0-1) have met seven times since UCF joined the league in 2005 with Southern Miss holding a 6-1 overall edge, including four straight wins.
UCF (3-2, 1-0 C-USA) gets its final chance to end that streak against its division rival on Saturday when it hosts its division rival for the final time as a league member.
A win won't erase all the tart memories the Golden Eagles (0-5, 0-1), but for a team looking to enter the Big East next year with momentum, it would be a nice start.
"I think you throw the records out the door when it comes to this game," Knights coach George O'Leary said. "I anticipate even though they haven't won a game I expect a whale of a ball game on Saturday night."
Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson said this week that though "It's been a Golden Eagle series" against UCF, in just his first year in Hattiesburg he also knows that his team clearly respects the Knights' toughness.
Johnson does have previous experience against UCF, having served as Mississippi State's defensive coordinator when it defeated the Knights in the 2007 Liberty Bowl.
"We played them in a bowl game five years ago and that's what I remember about them. Watching tape on them...I think they look very similar in scheme. There is a lot of one back. It's not all two back...There's a lot of power football in it."
Last season UCF narrowly missed completing a feverish fourth-quarter comeback in its 30-29 loss, when the Knights scored with no time left but failed to convert on a two-point conversion.
Those wounds are still raw, even against a team that has struggled as much as the Golden Eagles have offensively thus far.
Southern Miss has not scored more than 20 points in a game this season, while playing three different quarterbacks. Collectively they are averaging just 135 passing yards per game, with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Junior Chris Campbell is the oldest of the trio, and has two of the touchdown passes and no picks.
"Where we are is where we've been the whole time," Johnson said. "We're working with quarterbacks that had never taken a college snap before this year. There are some growing pains. Has there been some improvement? I think there has. At the end of the day, you can't throw it to the other team that many times."
Turnovers are expected to be huge in this game, with the winner of every game in the series having won the turnover battle.
The question coming into this week for UCF is whether it will take Southern Miss' struggles this year for granted, especially coming off such an emotional come from behind victory over East Carolina last week at home.
While the Knights say they aren't relying exclusively on the momentum of last week's comeback win to help them avoid a letdown, they admit it is a small factor.
UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, who has put together turnover-free games in consecutive weeks, said they are sticking to their internal mantra.
"It wasn't really what we learned about ourselves. I think it was what people learned about us, how resilient we are and that this team has no quit," Bortles said. "We got down 14-0 and then obviously Quincy (McDuffie) gives us that big (kickoff) return. People can say it sparked us, but really, there was never a letdown. Everybody knew we just had to keep doing what we were doing."
Defensive end Victor Gray said he still doesn't think the Knights have put together a complete game yet.
"We learned that we need to come out stronger," he said of the ECU win. "I was happy with the team, (our) resilience, the way we fought back and finished hard. We just need to start that way and dominate the game from start to finish, not just three quarters."
Likewise, as tough as things have been for Southern Miss so far this year, there is still a chance it can salvage its season and possibly get to bowl eligibility.
After UCF, the Golden Eagles' remaining six opponents have a combined 8-25 record.
For now, though, Johnson said playing fundamental football is the only focus.
"We're still very optimistic that this football team can win some football games down the stretch. We're going to play some good teams," he said. "We've already played three or four teams that are as good as we're going to play.
"Now, I may be surprised and find out that there are some on the schedule that are better, but until we take care of some of the things that are self-inflicted, it really doesn't matter about the schedule. We've got to take care of the football."
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower.