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While the UCF Knights (6-3) did not attain their goal of an American Conference Championship, it would turn out that they still have an opportunity to make some noise in South Florida at the Boca Raton Bowl.
With UCF finishing fourth overall in the AAC, how is this possible in a “lower-level” bowl game? With all the challenges coming in a season dealing with COVID-19, it would be the chaos of a pandemic that delivered an independent school, #18 BYU (10-1), as an opponent on December 22nd.
Thanks to other eligible unranked ACC teams opting out, a win over the Cougars of Brigham Young University would salvage the 2020 season that many Knight fans consider a disappointment.
“That’s why, obviously, a lot of us are excited and happy for this opportunity,” said UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel. He continued, “We’ll never take [a bowl appearance] for granted, but at the same time it is going to be a great matchup. They’ve got a great offense, we’ve got a great offense. They’ve got a great team as well; same here”.
While it can be argued that the Knights are the best offense that BYU has faced all season, UCF will be without their top target, Marlon Williams. Fortunately for his offense, Williams isn’t the only wide receiver selected first-team All-Conference. Jaylon Robinson is a huge downfield threat who was also voted in.
On top of that, Tre Nixon is slated to suit up. Nixon was UCF’s top receiver in 2019 but missed most of the season due to an injury in the season opener against Georgia Tech. His return two months later against Cincinnati set the stage for him to reduce the impact of Williams’ departure as he focuses on reaching the NFL.
Running backs Greg McCrae and second-team All-Conference player Otis Anderson will also be a significant element for success against the nation’s third best defense in points allowed, led by linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi.
Kaufusi leads the Cougars in tackles while also boasting three sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception return for a touchdown.
The defense for UCF is once again the big question mark. They have a penchant for inconsistent performance due to young players plugged in the lineup to overcome COVID and off-field issues. That will only be compounded without first-team All-Conference defensive back Richie Grant.
Without Grant zooming all over the field while commanding his squad as the team leader in tackles as well as interceptions, BYU’s dark-horse Heisman Trophy Candidate Zach Wilson may have an easier day under center.
UCF’s defensive line coach Shane Burnham spoke on Wilson Friday: “He’s a baller. He can make every throw. He’s got a really strong arm. The first thing that jumps off the tape is that he can throw the 15-yard comeback from the hash to the numbers on a rope. He can throw the deep ball and put it in stride. He just does a great job.” Coach Burnham also cited him as a running threat. Not only in pulling the ball down on a designed run, but to roll out to escape a pass rush and extend plays.
That ability to get out of trouble could help Wilson hit the Cougar’s 1,000-yard receiver Dax Milne with passes. And that’s without mentioning running back Tyler Allgeier, who will have a shot to break the 1,000-yard mark on the ground with the 957 he’s posted in 2020. He has already surpassed 1,000 all-purpose yards, having caught 11 passes for 114 yards on the year.
Regardless of who is missing from the respective lineups, a shootout is expected in this contest as the over/under for total points is set at 68.5. UCF is favored currently by 4.5 points.
Set your calendar for 7 pm EST on Tuesday. ESPN will be airing quite the fireworks show thanks to Gabriel and Wilson.