The lone bowl game Friday night will go down at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL., where Central Florida will square off against Ball State at The Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
Most books are listing Central Florida (9-4 straight up, 6-7 against the spread) as a seven-point favorite with a total of 61 ½. The Cardinals can be had to win outright for a generous plus-250 payout (risk $100 to win $250).
UCF is gunning for its fourth 10-win season in school history. During the ninth year of George O’Leary’s tenure, the Knights are going to their fifth bowl game after losing in the Conference USA title game.
Tulsa beat UCF 33-27 in overtime as a three-point home favorite to capture C-USA gold. Bettors backing the Knights (+3) had to feel cursed after a pair of missed extra points cost them a winner.
When UCF cut its deficit to 21-20 late in the third quarter, a missed PAT kept the score that way. With 5:06 left in the fourth, Tulsa tied the game at 27-27 but missed its PAT that would’ve given it a 28-27 advantage.
In that scenario, UCF backers would have won catching three points as an underdog. However, Tulsa backers cashed with the win by six in OT.
O’Leary’s squad missed out on a trip to the Liberty Bowl by losing to the Golden Hurricane. Instead, the Knights stay close to home by venturing across Interstate-4 to the other side of the Sunshine State.
The key for UCF is its offense led by Blake Bortles, the sophomore signal caller who threw for 2,787 yards with a 22/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Bortles drives an offense that averages 35.2 points per game.
Bortles had a pair of TD passes without an interception against Tulsa and also rushed for 61 yards and one score. For the season, he has seven rushing touchdowns.
UCF senior RB Latavius Murray has rushed for a team-high 1,037 yards and 14 TDs. Murray averages 5.8 yards per carry and has 21 catches for 198 yards and two TDs.
Ball St. (9-3 SU, 9-3 ATS) has been an underdog five times this season, compiling a 4-1 spread record with three outright victories at Indiana, vs. South Florida and at Toledo. The Cardinals finished the regular season with six consecutive wins both SU and ATS.
Pete Lembo’s team played six bowl-bound schools, going 3-3 SU and 4-2 ATS. Ball St.’s only losses came at Clemson (52-27), at Kent St. (45-33) and vs. No. Illinois (35-23).
The Cardinals are led by sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards, who has 1,321 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Edwards averages 6.1 yards per carry.
Junior quarterback Keith Wenning has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 2,878 yards with a 22/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Wenning also rushed for three TDs during the regular season.
Willie Snead is Wenning’s favorite target and one of the MAC’s premier wide receivers. Snead, a sophomore, made 82 catches for 1,070 yards and seven TDs. Jamill Smith hauled in 69 receptions for 706 yards and six TDs. Smith is also a weapon on special teams, averaging 13.8 yards per punt return and 25.8 yards per kick return.
Wenning and Smith both missed the regular-season finale, a 31-24 win at Miami (OH.). Wenning was suffering from an Achilles strain, but he is expected to get the starting nod vs. UCF. Smith had a foot injury but he’s also ‘probable.’
Gamblers have to be concerned with Ball St.’s defense, a unit ranked 104th in the nation that gave up 460 yards and 31.5 points per game.
The ‘over’ is on an 8-1 run in UCF games, going 10-3 overall for the season. The ‘over’ is 6-5-1 overall for the Cardinals, but they have seen the ‘under’ go 5-2 in their last seven outings.
UCF played at this venue in this bowl game in 2009, getting run out of the building by Rutgers, 45-23. Two seasons ago, the Knights captured the school’s first bowl win by knocking off Georgia 10-6 at the Liberty Bowl.
Ball St. is back in the postseason for the first time since 2008 when it got trounced 45-13 by Tulsa at the GMAC Bowl.
ESPN will have the telecast at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.