ORLANDO — UCF coach George O'Leary let a different senior address the team briefly in the locker room during each day of preseason camp.
He let star defensive end Bruce Miller go first.
"He goes, 'I'm just telling you guys, I want to win this year and you better be right with me,' " O'Leary said of Miller. "And he sat down. But they knew what he meant."
Every member of the team embraced what Miller meant, unifying to chase a Conference USA title.
The Knights (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) have a chance to achieve their goal when they face Southern Methodist (7-5, 6-2) today at Bright House Networks Stadium for the league title.
"We have worked hard together as a team all season, and we won't be satisfied with anything less than a championship," UCF freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey said.
Like UCF, SMU enters the game with a championship goal of its own.
After winning the Hawaii Bowl last season, the Mustangs immediately decided the next step was playing for a C-USA title.
"I don't think anyone said it first," sophomore running back Zach Line said. "We just all knew it was the next step. We all agreed we were going to do whatever it took to get to the championship game."
O'Leary points out one key difference between the teams.
His Knights have been dreaming of winning another title to match the championship they won at home during the 2007 season. SMU is a few developmental years behind, with the Mustangs thrilled to have even made the title game after rapidly turning around a program that posted a 1-11 record two years ago.
"Their goal was to get to the conference championship," O'Leary said. "Our goal was to get there, but win it. I think that's what I'm going to re-emphasize with the kids. Now you're here, now you have to win."
Both teams have strong offensive attacks.
SMU sophomore quarterback Kyle Padron has a strong arm and is capable of connecting on deep pass plays, while Line is the conference's leading rusher.
Godfrey, a true dual-threat quarterback, is a poised playmaker who can consistently convert on third down. He has helped UCF develop the most potent and diverse offensive attack of O'Leary's tenure.
Miller anchors a stout UCF defense, while sophomore linebacker Taylor Reed is one of many playmakers among SMU's front seven.
O'Leary believes this game will likely be decided by his linemen, with the defensive front pressuring Padron and the offensive line doing a better job of protecting Godfrey.
The defensive line has to put pressure on Padron to help the secondary, while the offensive line has to do a better job of protecting Godfrey after giving up more sacks during the past three games.
When he was asked whether the offensive linemen had embraced the challenge of a title game, O'Leary responded: "Well, they better, because I think SMU's defense — I use the word salty as far as what they do. And their offensive line has good size, and they've got a power running back behind them. They keep you off balance with the run and pass. It's going to be quite a fight."
UCF senior linebacker Derrick Hallman said the Knights will do whatever it takes to beat the Mustangs.
"We're not going to let this one slip away," he said. "I don't want my last memory of Bright House Networks Stadium to be me walking off the field with my head down, and I don't want another team celebrating on my field with a championship trophy."