Full house tonight at the Gasparilla Bowl as the Florida Gators and the UCF knights face off in back yard brawl in Tampa.

By Adam Rauzino

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The UCF Knights collide with the Florida Gators in this year’s edition of the Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday evening in Tampa Bay. The Knights tallied an 8-4 record and went 5-2 in AAC play. The Gators finished their disappointing regular season with a 6-6 record and only won two of eight SEC games.

Knights Enter Bowl with Momentum after Big Second Half

The UCF Knights enter this bowl clash a winner of five out of their last six games overall. The only defeat in that span was a rough 55-28 loss to SMU. The Knights had a good season considering star QB Dillon Gabriel was injured in September with a broken collarbone. The worst loss came in an early-season upset against Navy. Central Florida wasn’t a reliable team, covering the spread in only four games all season.

Mikey Keene did a good job filling in for Gabriel. The freshman QB has gone four straight games without tossing an interception and has accrued 1585 passing yards accompanied by a 16:6 TD to INT ratio. The Knights didn’t opt for the pass nearly as often under Keene. They have a productive RB in Johnny Richardson. The sophomore surpassed the 100-yard mark three times this season and has tallied 693 yards on an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

Knights’ #1 receiver Ryan O’Keefe has a tough matchup in this one. The junior WR made 19 catches in his last three games and has recorded 727 receiving yards on the season. The UCF offense eclipsed 30 points three times under QB Mikey Keene.

The Knights’ defense displayed improvement as the season progressed and was the deciding factor in many of their late-season wins. They only allowed more than 20 points three times in AAC action. The pass defense is terrific, standing at 42nd overall while the rush defense is 73rd. UCF ranks 38th in the FBS with 32.2 points on the season. The defense is limiting foes to 25.2 points, good for 55th overall.

Gators Dealing with Coaching Change, Opt Outs

The Florida Gators will have a chance to conclude a disappointing season with a trophy after losing in last year’s Cotton Bowl. This program was expected to be elite this season and could not find a groove which resulted in the dismissal of head coach Dan Mullen. Florida’s new HC Billy Napier will not be on the sidelines for this game. The Gators went 1-4 in their last five conference games of the season.

Emory Jones had an inconsistent season. The junior QB looked great in some games and awful in others. Jones is mobile and finished with 2563 passing yards along with a 19:13 TD to INT ratio, and added 697 rushing yards. Jones will enter the transfer portal but will play in this game. The Gators’ other QB Anthony Richardson is injured and will not play. The Gators will use several running backs. Dameon Pierce made the most of his 87 carries, accumulating 517 yards. Malik Davis is also a threat, rushing for 401 yards on 4.7 yards per carry.

Gators’ receiving leader Jacob Copeland eclipsed 100 yards twice this season and finished with 607 receiving yards. He entered the transfer portal and won’t play in this game. The Gators offense is solid but they did not have enough to solve the elite defensive teams of the SEC.

The Florida defense was exploited frequently this season. They even allowed 52 points against Samford. They are tough to solve in the air, ranking 37th in the FBS against the pass however the rush defense is an issue, tabbing 69th overall. The Gators are averaging 31.8 points, ranking them 41st in the country. They are allowing an average of 26.6 points, landing them 73rd overall.

t was a disappointing season for the Gators, resulting in the dismissal of HC Dan Mullen. The Gators lost six of their eight conference games. They were fortunate to win the regular-season finale in a narrow 24-21 decision against a Florida State team that only won five games. UCF is a terrific squad that has won five out of their last six games propelled by the stellar defense.

Furthermore, the Gators’ offense is not very threatening. Florida’s leading receiver Jacob Copeland (607 yards) has opted out for this game. The Gators have scored 24 or fewer points in four out of their last five games. This is key as UCF’s defense is stellar. The Gators passing offense averaged a solid 261 yards per game however it’s going to be difficult against a Knights defense that is limiting foes to just 213 passing yards per game. The Knights have allowed 17 or fewer points in five out of their last six games and the defense will result in a very close battle.

Prediction: UCF Knights +7

Written By Adam Rauzino , “Adam Rauzino”

Adam has been a sports fanatic his entire life, closely following hockey, baseball, basketball, and football. He enjoys analyzing various stats, as well as studying Sabermetrics and analytics to take his picks to a whole new level. Adam has a passion for writing about various sports as well as personal finance and being an expert sports bettor. Prior to bringing his talents here to Winners and Whiners, Adam graduated with a diploma in business marketing and business finance. You would do yourself a huge favor by following Adam on a daily basis.