ORLANDO — Coach Scott Frost wasn't sure what he was walking into upon taking over at UCF last December.
What he has found out in the past 11 months is that he inherited a gritty group willing to accept coaching and do whatever it takes to return to respectability. The Knights took a major step Saturday, beating Cincinnati 24-3 to become bowl eligible after going 0-12 last season.
"I'm happy for our players," said Frost, who was still dripping wet after receiving a Gatorade bath before the game's end. "I told them you don't get much in this life you don't earn, and they've earned the success they have."
While Frost, a former Oregon offensive coordinator, is known for his high-powered offense, the Knights' turnaround has had everything to do with their defense. That was certainly the case Saturday as UCF swarmed the Bearcats.
Linebackers Errol Clarke and Shaquem Griffin combined for five sacks on Cincinnati's Hayden Moore, and defensive end Seyvon Lowry came up with a game-sealing interception in the third quarter that set up running back Jawon Hamilton's 25-yard touchdown run. The Bearcats were able to move the ball but were kept out of the end zone and did not score in the second half.
HOUSTON 30, TULANE 18: Greg Ward Jr. threw for two touchdowns and ran for another to lead the host Cougars.
Houston never trailed, getting a touchdown on its opening possession when the Green Wave's Parry Nickerson fumbled a punt return in the end zone and it was recovered by Jeremy Winchester. Houston also got a safety in the fourth quarter.
Ward finished with 189 yards passing and connected with Chance Allen and Steven Dunbar for touchdowns.
NAVY 42, TULSA 40: Quarterback Will Worth (Newsome High) ran for 122 yards and scored three touchdowns, and the host Midshipmen took control of the West Division.
Navy is in the driver's seat to earn a spot in, and possibly host, the AAC championship game Dec. 3. The Midshipmen have won 15 straight home games, the second-longest such streak in the nation.
"This was a great football game," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Sometimes, I wish I was just in the stands, watching as a fan. These games are not good on the heart. I'm proud of our guys. We found a way to make enough plays. We had a hard time trying to stop those guys."
SMU 55, ECU 31: Horace Richardson returned two interceptions for touchdowns for the visiting Mustangs. Richardson's 70-yard return put SMU in front 31-17 in the second quarter, and his 80-yarder in the third made it 45-24. The picks were Richardson's fifth and sixth, and with Darrion Millines making his fifth, the Mustangs have 17 this season.