PREVIEW: UCF Knights Battle BYU Cougars Tuesday Night in Boca Raton Bowl

By  //  December 21, 2020

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7 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN

For the second time in as many years, UCF’s football team heads just a few hours south for a pre-Christmas bowl opportunity. (UCF Image)

BOCA RATON, FLORIDA – For the second time in as many years, UCF’s football team heads just a few hours south for a pre-Christmas bowl opportunity.

This time it’s the Knights (6-3) against 14th-rated BYU (10-1) in the RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl.

A UCF victory would give the Knights three bowl wins in the last four seasons, a potential first for the program (after a Peach Bowl win over Auburn to finish 2017 and a Gasparilla Bowl triumph over Marshall a year ago in Tampa).

A BYU victory would accomplish the same for the Cougars (after a Potato Bowl win in 2018 and a Poinsettia Bowl victory in 2016).

Here’s what’s at stake Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN) in Boca Raton:

1. The Cougars are good on defense.

BYU may not be the best defensive team UCF has faced in 2020, but if not, it’s certainly close. Here’s how the Cougars match up from a numbers standpoint compared to other Knight foes this season:
–Total Defense: BYU is ninth (308.9 yards per game), Cincinnati 13th, Tulsa 27th; four UCF wins came versus teams currently ranked 86th or lower.
–Scoring Defense: BYU is third (14.6 per game), behind only Marshall and Army West Point; Cincinnati is seventh, Tulsa 23rd; five UCF wins came against teams now standing 89th or lower (with the Knights contributing significantly to those rankings). The Knights scored 33 points on Nov. 21 against that fifth-rated Cincinnati defense, nine more than any other opponent managed against the Bearcats.
–Passing Yards Allowed: BYU is 24th (195.7 per game), Cincinnati 21st, Tulsa 22nd; among UCF wins two came against teams now rated 111th (Georgia Tech) and 115th (Tulane) in that category.
–Team Passing Efficiency Defense: BYU is 37th, Cincinnati second, Tulsa 21st; five UCF wins came versus teams now rated 74th through 92nd.

2. Let’s talk scoring.

BYU has never permitted more than 26 points in a game in 2020, seven times allowing 14 or fewer. Meanwhile, UCF has never scored fewer than 26 points and six times has scored at least 44. Something has to give. The 26 points allowed by BYU? They came against American Athletic Conference member Houston in a game played Oct. 16 in Provo.

3. The match game.

Here’s how the offenses and quarterbacks of UCF and BYU match up in terms of current NCAA national rankings:
In simple terms, this will be a battle of two of the best offenses and most efficient quarterbacks in the country in 2020 (and both are underclassmen). Pro Football Focus recently rated college quarterbacks for their play outside the pocket and listed Wilson second with an 87.9 grade and Gabriel fourth at 82.3 (first was Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler at 93.3 and third was Florida’s Kyle Trask at 82.6). PFF also rated the most valuable players in college football in 2020 (based on wins above average) and had Wilson third and Gabriel fifth (Trask first, Alabama’s Mac Jones second, North Carolina’s Sam Howell fourth). UCF defensive line coach Shane Burnham Friday called Wilson “as good a quarterback as we’ve seen all year” and that list includes Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and Memphis’ Brady White.

4. So far, it’s gone according to form.

There have been no real surprises to date in UCF’s 2020 season. Its three losses all came to teams that finished with either more league wins or overall wins (or both), with the three teams combining for a 22-5 record. On the other hand, the Knights’ six wins all came against teams that finished below them in the AAC standings (plus a Georgia Tech team that ended up 3-7). Those six teams finished a combined 17-36. That means a bowl win versus a 10-1 BYU unit would qualify as, without question, the signature victory of 2020.

5. One common opponent.

Both UCF and BYU played Houston in 2020. Here’s how the numbers compared when those two teams faced the Cougars:

BYU came back from a 12-point third-period deficit against Houston to score the final 29 points of the game, including three TD throws by Wilson. UCF’s 353 rushing yards versus the Cougars represented a Knight season high.

Plus, one more in the holiday tradition:
6. Time to step up.

A year ago this time, leading UCF receiver Gabriel Davis (now a solid contributor with the NFL division-leading Buffalo Bills) opted out of the Knights’ bowl game versus Marshall. That opened the door for Marlon Williams to catch seven passes for 132 yards in the convincing Gasparilla Bowl victory. This time around it’s Williams (a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist) who did not play in the South Florida regular-season finale and will not participate against BYU in Boca Raton. Whose turn is it now to step up for the Knights?

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