Ball St returns to a bowl for the first time since ‘08 when Brady Hoke was at the helm. This is HC Pete Lembo’s 1st bowl appearance and the Cardinals 6th all-time. They are still searching for their 1st ever win. BSU was 3-3 vs bowl teams outscoring them 37-36 and outgaining them 500-492. After losing a close and controversial CUSA Title game in OT to Tulsa, the Knights land in St Petersburg for the 2nd time in 4 years. HC George O’Leary has guided UCF to all 4 of its previous bowl games going just 1-3 with the lone win coming in their last trip, the ‘10 Liberty Bowl against Georgia. BSU has played my #80 schedule, while UCF has played my #105. This is the 4th all-time meeting between these 2 squads as UCF was a member of the MAC from ‘02-’04 although they played just once in conference play in ‘04 (last meeting) with Ball St coming out on top 14-7 (BSU owns 2-1 series lead).
The Cardinals ended the season with 6 straight wins and their 9 wins overall are the most since their last bowl appearance in ‘08 when they had 12. BSU comes into this game with my #43 offense behind 3 year starter Wenning. He has career highs in yards, comp %, and td passes this season. He had two games in which he threw for over 400 yards, and both were against the two best teams in the MAC (Kent St and NI). However, Wenning is still not 100% as backup Page started the ssn finale and will get snaps here. On the receiving end of most of the passes is Snead, who had his most productive game of the season (14-216) against Kent. The real threat of the offense is the running attack which is led by Edwards, who ended the season on a terror, avg 131 ypg (6.3) over the last 6 games. The OL avg 6’4’’ 303 with 3 Sr starters and they increased their rush ypg from 138 (4.2) last year to 214 (5.0) this year while allowing 10 sacks (2.2%) this year. BSU needs to put up a lot of numbers on offense because their defense is near the bottom in the nation, #98 in my rankings. They allowed over 500 total yards 5 times and over 400 on 4 more occasions. They are the polar opposite of their offensive strength, with their run defense not able to stop anyone. As bad as it is, they still improved their rush ypg from 226 (5.1) last year to 206 (5.1) this year, while they increased their sacks from 16 last year to 20 this year. Their ppg allowed has also went down from 34.7 last year to 31.5 this year. They have my #106 pass eff D, allowing a 25-7 ratio. BSU has improved dramatically in my special teams rankings, shooting all the way up to #6 from #80 last year. K Schott is tied for #2 in the nation with 24 FG’s made while P Kovanda is a big reason why the Cardinals net punting avg is 39.6 (#16 FBS).
UCF has my #51 offense avg 35 ppg and 401 ypg. If there is a position that the Knights have a surplus at it would be QB as 3 players have past experience while a 4th is a former Mizzou transfer. After a competitive camp Bortles earned the starting spot and showed weekly progress finishing the regular season with 29 total td’s. RB Murray led UCF in rushing this year as he nearly doubled his output of a season prior. Former Miami, Fl transfer Johnson and former 1,000 yard rusher Harvey have also seen plenty of action. The Knights have 3 different receivers that have pulled in at least 30 catches and 400 yards this year led by Worton, who leads the team in both categories. The OL avg 6’4” 298 and features 4 upperclassmen in the rotation including twins Justin and Jordan McCray who occupy both of the starting OG spots. On the year this group has paved the way for 179 ypg (4.8) on the ground while allowing 23 sacks (6.1%). The D has my #47 ranking allowing 23 ppg and 380 ypg. The DL avg 6’3” 271, but keep in mind that the Knights use a heavy rotation here with 8 different players seeing at least 1 start this year. On the year the front 4 allowed 162 ypg (4.1) on the ground while recording 17 of the team’s 23 sacks. UCF’s #3 through #5 tacklers are members of the LB unit while S’s Ishmael and Geathers lead the team in tackles with 116 and 107, respectively. UCF has my #34 pass eff D allowing 218 ypg (60%) with a 14-11 ratio. A big reason for the Knights’ #23 finish in my ST’s rankings is the KR’s of McDuffie who has the nation’s top avg at 34.2 with 3 td’s on the year!
When comparing the teams, both offenses are strong with balanced attacks and both have great power backs. If I'm a Cardinals fan, however the thing that concerns me is that UCF's D is much better adept at stopping the run and you have to be somewhat concerned about the health of Wenning. Points should be plenty in what should be an entertaining bowl but in the end UCF gets a couple of stops and pulls away.