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Central Florida at Louisville

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In what is most likely the most difficult hurdle remaining on its cupcake schedule, Louisville (6-0 straight up, 3-3 against the spread) will take on Central Florida at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium this Friday.

As of Thursday morning, most betting shops had Charlie Strong’s squad installed as a 12.5-point favorite with a total of 53. Gamblers can take the Golden Knights on the money line for a +400 payout (risk $100 to win $400). For first-half wagers, U of L is favored by seven with a total of 27.

Louisville has won eight consecutive games dating back to last season, including last Thursday’s 24-10 non-covering triumph over Rutgers as a 19-point home ‘chalk.’ The 34 combined points easily stayed ‘under’ the 55.5-point total.

Junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 21-of-31 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Bridgewater was playing without his leading receiver DaVante Parker, who was out with a shoulder injury.

Damian Copeland picked up the slack with a team-high eight receptions for 115 yards. Senorise Perry rushed 13 times for 104 yards and one touchdown.

Central Florida (4-1 SU, 4-1 ATS) has had two weeks to prep for this crucial AAC showdown. George O’Leary’s team failed to cover the number for the first time in its last contest, a 24-17 win at Memphis as a 9.5-point favorite.

Truth be told, UCF was fortunate to escape the Liberty Bowl with a victory. Trailing 17-10 with 2:05 remaining, RB Storm Johnson coughed up a fumble just as he was about to cross the goal line. Fortunately for the Knights, OT Chris Martin recovered the ball in the end zone for the tying score.

On the ensuing kick, Memphis fumbled and Drico Johnson scooped up the ball and returned it 12 yards for the go-ahead score. With the Tigers threatening to tie in the waning moments, UCF secured the victory thanks to Terrance Plummer’s second interception of the game.

Johnson ran for a team-high 86 yards on 16 carries. QB Blake Bortles had a shaky performance, connecting on just 17-of-36 throws for 160 yards and no TDs.

For the season, Bortles has completed 64.8 percent of his attempts for 1,334 yards with a 9/3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Johnson has run for a team-high 455 yards and seven TDs, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Bridgewater has connected on 71.0 percent of his throws for 1,872 yards with an 18/2 TD-INT ratio. He got some good news Wednesday when Parker practiced and was upgraded to ‘probable.’ Parker has made 21 receptions for 375 yards and six TDs, while Copeland has hauled in 23 catches for 379 yards and three scores.

Perry has rushed for a team-high 402 yards and five TDs while averaging 6.0 YPC. The Cardinals are loaded in the backfield with three quality options. Dominique Brown has run for 271 yards and two TDs while also averaging 6.0 YPC, and Auburn transfer Michael Dyer has 43 carries for 220 yards and two TDs with a 5.1 YPC average.

Since Strong took over in 2010 after a long career as a defensive coordinator at several SEC schools, Louisville has compiled a 9-12 spread record as a home favorite. On O’Leary’s watch, UCF has posted an 18-15 spread record as a road underdog.

The ‘under’ is 5-1 overall for U of L, 3-1 in its home games. The ‘under’ is 4-1 overall for UCF, 2-1 in its road assignments.

These schools haven’t met since 1985 when Louisville captured a 42-21 home win in a pick ‘em matchup.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--California is the nation’s only school with a 0-6 spread record. In addition, the Bears are an atrocious 2-11 ATS in their last 13 games as home underdogs. They host Oregon St. this weekend as double-digit ‘dogs.

--Georgia RB Todd Gurley and safety Tray Matthews were downgraded to ‘doubtful’ for Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt. Gurley will most likely miss his third straight game since spraining his ankle in a 44-41 home win over LSU.

--The ‘over’ is 6-0 for UGA, 4-2 for Vandy. The Commodores are 12-4 ATS at home under James Franklin.

--South Carolina leading WR Bruce Ellington is ‘questionable’ Saturday at Tennessee. Ellington strained his foot in last week’s 52-7 clubbing of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He was in a walking boot Monday and Tuesday but did practice on a limited basis Wednesday. The Gamecocks will get WR Shaq Roland back for the Vols after serving a three-game suspension.

--Shhh! Keep this a secret but South Carolina QB Connor Shaw is enjoying another outstanding season. He has 10 TD passes without throwing an interception. While the media keeps making a big deal out of Jadeveon Clowney doing or not doing this or that, Shaw and Mike Davis have led the Gamecocks to a 5-1 start with lots of winnable games in front of them. Check out my recent blog post on VI for some more thoughts on South Carolina and Stanford and their longshot future odds.

--The ‘under’ is 4-1-1 overall for Florida, 3-0 in its road assignments. The Gators are short favorites Saturday at Missouri with the total at 44.

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