Central Florida has been trying to schedule an annual series with Florida for years as the campuses are only about 110 miles apart with UCF in Orlando and UF in Gainesville. However, the Gators aren’t about to give up a lucrative non-conference home game so the sides rarely play (they will start a series in 2024 finally).
The Dec. 23 Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa took care of that problem. ESPN has the telecast and there is a sellout for a bowl game that otherwise would likely have mostly empty stands. So let’s go ahead and break down the NCAAF odds for this matchup!
UCF Knights vs. Florida Gators
Thursday, December 23, 2021 – 07:00 PM EST at Raymond James Stadium
Florida has never played in this game. UCF has twice, losing 45-24 to Rutgers in 2009 and 34-27 to NC State in 2014. Both those games were played across the bay from Tampa in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field, home of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays, but is now hosted at Raymond James Stadium. This bowl was canceled last year due to the pandemic.
The Gators are 2-0 all-time vs. the Knights and they haven’t played since 2006 in Gainesville, so no NCAA betting trends available for this series.
UCF Hasn’t Had Success Against SEC
Central Florida finished 8-4 in the first season under former Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. For a while there, the Knights were the pre-eminent program in the American Athletic Conference but they have been passed for that honor for sure by at least Cincinnati. The Bearcats blew UCF out this year 56-21.
Knights starting QB Dillon Gabriel fractured the clavicle in his throwing arm on Sept. 17 and never made it back to the field – he has since entered the transfer portal. True freshman Mikey Keene took over the starting job and threw for 1,531 yards and 15 touchdowns in his nine starts. Keene had at least one pick in his first five starts but none in his final four.
Injuries were an issue all season. Running back R.J. Harvey missed the entire season, fellow tailback Isaiah Bowser missed five games and receiver Jaylon Robinson missed six games. All-conference tackle Kalia Davis missed five games, and defensive tackle Ricky Barber and linebacker Bryson Armstrong both missed two.
Central Florida is 3-18 all-time against teams currently in the SEC with wins over Alabama (2000), Auburn (2018), and Georgia (2010). It’s a sixth straight bowl appearance for the program. It lost to a very good BYU team 49-23 in last year’s Boca Raton Bowl. UCF is 1-4 against the spread in its past five as an underdog.
Gators Under Interim Coach
It was a hugely disappointing 6-6 season for Florida – remember, the Gators almost upset eventual national champion Alabama in last season’s SEC title game – that led to Coach Dan Mullen being fired. Former Louisiana coach Billy Napier is the new full-time guy, but special teams coordinator/running backs coach Greg Knox will coach this game. UF got bowl eligible with a 24-21 win over Florida State in the regular-season finale. Knox also coached that game.
Florida’s 5,641 yards this season is its second-most through 12 games in the last 20 seasons, trailing only the 2020 campaign (6,118). UF has 2,508 total rush yards this season, the program’s second-highest total (2018: 2,514) through 12 games since 2009.
Quarterback Emory Jones leads the Gators in both passing and rushing, finishing the regular season with 2,563 passing yards and 19 touchdowns in addition to 696 rushing yards with four TDs on the ground. Jones had been splitting time with Anthony Richardson, but the freshman will not play in this game after minor knee surgery. Running back Dameon Pierce’s 15 total touchdowns this season rank tied for eighth in Florida football single-season history.
Arguably the team’s best defensive player, lineman Zachary Carter, has declared for the draft and won’t play. Carter totaled 47 tackles for the Gators, including 11.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.
A couple of other guys are entering the transfer portal but it’s not clear if they will play in this game. Florida ranks third in the SEC in third-down conversions allowed (58), fourth in fourth-down percentage (38.9), fourth in passing defense (2,503 yds) and tied for seventh in sacks (32.0).
Florida is already 1-0 at Raymond James Stadium in 2021, having defeated South Florida, 42-20, in Week 2. The Gators are 8-3 in bowl games since 2009. I see UF winning by a touchdown so we will give the points for our NCAAF pick. Florida is 6-2 ATS in its past eight bowl games as a favorite.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.