It may not be a New Years Six bowl game for either program, but Tuesday’s showdown between No. 13 BYU (10-1) and UCF (6-3) is easily one of the most anticipated bowl matchups this season.
BYU comes in with its first 10-win season since 2011 and was just one yard short of staying unbeaten in a 22-17 road loss to No. 9 Coastal Carolina (11-0) in a game that was scheduled at the last minute. Meanwhile, UCF has had several close calls as the Knights lost to No. 6 Cincinnati (9-0), No. 22 Tulsa (6-2) and Memphis (7-3) by a combined 12 points.
If a couple plays went the other way, both of these programs would be undefeated right now. But we won’t dwell on the would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. While it would have been fun to see both of these teams beat up on P5 programs and to help change the P5/G5 narrative, Tuesday’s showdown does put two of the most potent offenses in the nation against each other in this must-see TV matchup.
BYU is led by quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown for 3,267 yards and 30 touchdowns (third most in the country). The junior has only thrown three interceptions and has also ran for eight touchdowns.
Meanwhile, UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel is no slouch either as the sophomore has amassed 3,353 passing yards as well as 30 touchdowns. The left-handed passer doesn’t turn the ball over either as he has just four interceptions on the year.
The all-time series between both programs is 1-1, with BYU and UCF each winning at home. In 2011, BYU won the first matchup in a 24-17 victory. The Knights returned the favor in 2014 when they also won by a touchdown (31-24) in a thrilling overtime game.
Date: Tuesday, December 22
Time: 5:00 p.m. MST
Announcers: Dave Neal (play-by-play), DJ Shockley (analyst), Lericia Harris (reporter)
Location: FAU Stadium (30,000) — Boca Raton, Florida
The Spread: BYU -6.5
Money Line: BYU -250, UCF +210
It what will likely be Zach Wilson’s last game, the junior looks to go out on top and cement himself as one of the all-time great quarterbacks to ever come out of BYU. With a win Tuesday, Wilson would join All-American quarterback Jim McMahon (1980-81) and Max Hall (2007, 2009) as the only quarterbacks to lead the Cougars to multiple bowl wins.
The dual-threat quarterback is averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game and leads an offense that ranks in the Top 10 in scoring offense, total offense and No. 2 nationally in explosive plays (more than 10+ yards from scrimmage).
Wilson should have another big game as UCF’s defense ranks near the worst in all of college football. The Knights pass defense currently ranks 117th out of 127 teams. The defense is giving up 284 yards through the air and 190 yards on the ground. Overall, the Knights are giving up 474 yards per game to rank 117th overall.
BYU’s deep threats Dax Milne and Gunner Romney should have a field day against the Knights’ secondary and inch closer to several regular season records for the Cougars. Romney is anticipate to play after sitting out against San Diego State after suffering what appeared to be a concussion at the end of the Coastal Carolina game.
The Knights finished the season 6-3 overall and 5-3 in American Athletic Conference play but as its been noted earlier, don’t let UCF’s record fool you. The Knights are a terrific football team and will be playing the game in their own backyard.
BYU’s defense will surely be tested as the Knights rank second in the nation in both total offense (585.6 yards per game) and passing (373.0 yards). UCF is also scoring 44.3 points per game. Both the total offense and passing yard numbers are on track to be all-time UCF highs.
The Knights use a balanced attack as they also run for more than 200 yards per game. Greg McCrae leads the way with 681 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, while Otis Anderson is right behind with 614 yards on the ground and four touchdowns. Both McCrae and Anderson are averaging more than five yards per carry this year. This could be a big problem for BYU which has been unable to stop the run the past two weeks.
UCF’s top receivers are Marlon Williams (1,039 yards, 10 TDs) and Jaylon Robinson (935 yards, 5 TDs). Both are explosive playmakers and are a threat to take it to the house anytime they touch the ball. The good news for Cougar fans is that Williams won’t be playing Tuesday night as the senior opted out the bowl game a couple weeks ago and declared for the NFL Draft.
It will be interesting to see how BYU’s bend-but-don’t-break defense stacks up as the Cougars tend to give up a lot of yards, but then turn it up a notch in the red zone and make big plays to keep the opponent out of the end zone. For the season, the Cougar defense is holding opponents to just 14.6 points per game, however, the Knights’ passing attack will give BYU their biggest test of the season.
Prediction BYU 34, UCF 31
This will be an exciting game between two excellent football programs. While BYU is favored by nearly a touchdown, I expect the game to be closer in what should be a back-and-forth game.
On paper, BYU is the better team and should be favored, however, for whatever reason, the Cougars don’t play very well on the east coast. In fact, the program is winless (0-8) in Florida. Is this finally the year they break the streak?
Like BYU, UCF doesn’t dominate time of possession. They score quick and have their defense on the field for much of the game. If UCF decides to pull a Coastal Carolina and San Diego State by draining the clock and keeping BYU’s offense off the field, they will have a great shot at knocking off BYU. The Cougars run defense has been poor lately and with defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki afraid to stack the box, the Knights could very well go this route and control the game. While the UCF has a great offense, the departure of star wide receiver Marlon Williams is a big loss and I’m not sure they have the firepower to keep up with BYU if it gets into a shootout.
BYU — This will be BYU’s 38th bowl game dating back to the 1974 Fiesta Bowl. The Cougars have played in 19 different bowls and in 11 states, including three in the state of Florida. The three previous bowl games in Florida were the 1976 Tangerine Bowl, 1985 Florida Citrus Bowl and 2014 Miami Beach Bowl. This is BYU’s first BYU appearance in the Boca Raton Bowl. Overall, BYU’s 38 bowl appearances rank No. 21 among college programs. The Cougars have gone bowling in 15 of the past 16 seasons.
UCF — This is UCF’s fifth consecutive bowl game appearance — a school record — and eighth in the past nine seasons. The string includes New Year’s Day appearances in the Fiesta Bowl in 2018 and Peach Bowl in 2017. UCF’s current five-year record of 47-14 is also the best in program history.