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.