Written By: Eric Rosenthal
December 22nd, 2021
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The Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday evening will feature the UCF Knights versus the Florida Gators. This is a match up I had circled as soon as the bowl games were released a few weeks ago. Florida started the season 3-1, only to end the campaign 6-6. UCF started the season 3-3, but ended with a nice stretch of football and finished 8-4.
Emory Jones will get the start at quarterback for the Gators here against UCF. Jones will be filling in for QB Anthony Richardson, who is injured. This will be Jones last game as a Gator, before he hits the transfer portal in the offseason. He was wildly inconsistent all season, which is why Florida chose to run the ball more than pass for much of the season. Team leading WR, Jacob Copeland, will be out for the Gators in this one (opt out). This is tough news for a Gator offense that is less than threatening.
Jones and the Gators will face a UCF defense that played very well in the final stretch of the 2021 season. In the last six games for the Knights, their defense never allowed more than 17 total points in any game. The Knights have been ball hawks over the last few seasons, and that did not change in this campaign. I expect this defense to make it difficult on Florida to move the ball through the air in this one, especially with Emory Jones playing QB for Florida.
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Florida will be without their sack leader on defense, Zach Carter (opt out). This is a defense that struggled mightily over the second half of the season. Since a shutout win over Vandy on October 9th, the Gators have allowed a total of 209 points over 6 games. Samford rolled into the Swamp on November 13th and put up 52 in a what would end up being a Gator win. However, Samford was not very good this season, as that game was a major red flag for Florida backers.
The UCF defense has allowed just 213 passing yards per game this season, making it difficult for me to see the Gators having much success through the air in this one. Also, you have to question the motivation factors for both schools in the Gasparilla Bowl. Florida just fired their head coach (Dan Mullins) and is dealing with crucial players opting out for the NFL draft. On the other side of the field, we have the UCF Knights, who have never beat a Power 5 school from the state of Florida. This is an excellent opportunity to take the hungrier team in a decent underdog spot. I am going to personally sprinkle a little on UCF moneyline in this one. However, my big play will be on UCF plus the points.
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