Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM
Gasparilla Bowl Preview
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After big bowl Saturday, college football action picks up again early on Monday with an afternoon clash between the AAC and Conference USA.
Marshall and UCF face off in the Gasparilla Bowl from Tampa with one of the biggest spreads of the bowl season.
Gasparilla Bowl Betting Preview
Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Central Florida Knights
Venue: At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
Time/TV: Monday, December 23, 2:30 PM ET, ESPN
Line: UCF -17½, Over/Under 61½
Last Meeting: 2012 Central Florida (-2½) 54, at Marshall 17
These teams met annually from 2002 to 2012 as MAC and Conference USA foes. Marshall remains a Conference USA squad while Central Florida moved to the American in 2013 and has risen in stature to play in New Year’s Six Bowl games the past two years.
Following back-to-back perfect regular seasons UCF slipped to 9-3 this season and surrendered the AAC East title to Cincinnati. The three losses came by a combined seven points while there were notable wins over Florida Atlantic, Stanford, and Temple. UCF outscored foes 516-274, though last season the Knights outscored foes 562-295.
Long-time starting quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a brutal injury late last season and he was expected to be replaced by Notre Dame transfer Brandon Wimbush. That plan didn’t last long as freshman Dillon Gabriel quickly moved to the top of the offense early in the season, compiling big numbers but with below 60 percent completions and with seven interceptions while taking 21 sacks.
UCF also saw a big decline in rushing production compared with last season with Gabriel not much of a threat on the ground. Four players have 449 or more rushing yards but on the whole the ground game dipped significantly in production and yards per rush compared with last season.
UCF still had a number of dominant scores but wound up allowing 34 more points than last season over eight AAC regular season games and in nine of the season’s final 10 games the Knights allowed at least 21 points. UCF struggled down the stretch with narrow wins vs. Houston and Tulane as well as a loss at Tulsa before winning easily in the season finale vs. South Florida.
UCF has actually lost three of its last four bowl games with only the Peach Bowl win over Auburn in that run going back to the 2014 season. UCF has allowed at least 27 points in five straight bowl games, granted that run covers three different coaching staffs. Josh Heupel is now 21-4 in his career with two strong seasons at UCF but he will be without his offensive coordinator for this game as Jeff Lebby was hired to take that role at Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin.
Marshall shouldn’t be underestimated due to the size of this spread as Doc Holliday is 78-50 with the program since 2010 and he is 6-0 in bowl games and the program owns an amazing 12-1 S/U and ATS record in bowl games since 1998. Under Holliday the Herd has only been favored by more than three points in one of the six wins while turning in two outright underdog wins in the bowl season.
For a second straight season Marshall finished 6-2 in Conference USA to finish second in the East division. The Herd is actually returning to the Gasparilla Bowl for a second straight season after a 38-20 win over South Florida in this game last season in what was a home game for the Bulls. Marshall had a convincing 503-360 edge in production with a sizable rushing edge and never looked back after scoring three first quarter touchdowns.
Marshall started just 2-3 this season with a competitive seven-point loss at Boise State but then had a lopsided home loss to Cincinnati while losing by 11 at Middle Tennessee State to start 0-2 in conference play. Marshall closed the season winning six of the final seven games led by defense, allowing fewer than 20 points per game on average in that span. That included notable wins over Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, and Louisiana Tech with the lone loss coming at Charlotte. With the head-to-head win in tow Marshall didn’t get a late season loss from Florida Atlantic to move to the top of the division as the Owls wound up with the league championship.
Sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green wound up with nearly identical numbers to last season while the offense was led by 1,200-yard rusher Brenden Knox who had his best game in the upset over Florida Atlantic with 220 yards. Marshall went 6-0 when Knox rushed for at least 100 yards this season.
UCF is accustomed to being a heavy favorite, laying 21 or more points five times this season (2-3 ATS) while this will be a rare steep underdog price for Marshall, last dogged this much in September 2017 in a loss but cover at NC State. Marshall is on a 4-1 ATS run in games as a double-digit underdog going back to 2016 and is 26-19-1 ATS as an underdog under Holliday including 24-14-1 ATS is you take out his first season in Huntington.
In half of UCF’s 12 games this season they won by at least 18 points however as something will have to give in Tampa. It is worth noting that heading into this bowl season four of the past five bowl underdogs of 16 points or higher have won the game outright going back to 2013 but Marshall will have to find a way to control the pace of a high-scoring UCF team to make that a possibility.