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NCAA Football Game Preview: Central Florida vs. Florida

Dec 23, 2021

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Game: UCF Knights vs. Florida Gators  

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET 

Odds: Knights +7, Gators -7 

Total: 55.5 

Fans in the state of Florida should get their money’s worth tonight in the Gasparilla Bowl in St. Petersburg. Gus Malzahn, in his first year as head coach of the UCF Knights, takes on the 6-6 Florida Gators. Malzahn finished third in the American Athletic Conference at 8-4 while the Gators needed a win over rival Florida State in their season finale just to become bowl-eligible. 

When betting bowl games, it always pays to know who is playing and who is not. The same can be said of coaches too. Florida fired head coach Dan Mullen prior to the season’s end and already has former Louisiana coach Billy Napier in place for the 2022 season. Interim coach Greg Knox and other members of Mullen’s staff will coach the Gators in tonight’s bowl game. 

The Gators will be missing a few key pieces from their defense. Two starters have elected to opt-out of the bowl game in order to focus on the NFL draft. Two more Gators defenders have entered the transfer portal. That could be a bad thing, though it might be a good thing too.  

Florida gave up an average of 25 points per game in 2021, which doesn’t look all that bad. However, the Gators gave up 49 points in a loss to LSU. A few weeks later, Florida made South Carolina look like an offensive juggernaut when the Gamecocks exploded for 40 points. A week later, the Gators somehow managed to give up 52 points to Samford, an FCS program. With Malzahn’s creativity on offense, it could be a long night for Florida.  

Another Gator star entered the transfer portal but elected to play in the bowl game. That is quarterback Emory Jones. That’s definitely a good thing for Florida. Jones threw for 2,563 yards and ran for 697 more while totaling 23 touchdowns. He is the reason why the Gators were able to average 476.5 yards of offense and 31.8 points per game in 2021

Now, on the other end, that depleted Florida defense is going to have its hands full. UCF averaged 411.7 yards of total offense per game in 2021. The Knights also scored 32.2 points a game. They did it without their star quarterback of the past few seasons, Dillon Gabriel. He was injured and replaced by Mikey Keene who has done well. Keene has 1,586 yards passing and 16 touchdowns. 

Both defenses have struggled especially late in the season. In fact, the Over went 5-2 in UCF’s last seven games played in December because of the Knights defensive letdowns late in the season. It’s a similar story for the Gators. The Over has cashed in eight of Florida’s last nine games played in the month of December.  

Florida did not cover the spread once in its final six games of the season. UCF is just 4-10 ATS over its last 14 games. That includes a 1-3 ATS mark in the Knights final four games this season.