NCAA Football Boca Raton Bowl: BYU/UCF Preview

by Big Al Staff

The Boca Raton Bowl features an 11th-ranked BYU playing Central Florida on Tuesday night on ESPN. FAU Stadium is the site.

BYU rebounded from their 22-17 loss at Coastal Carolina in that rescheduled on-the-fly “bracket buster” showdown December 5th to defeat San Diego State at home on December 12th, 28-14, as a 16.5-point favorite. Senior quarterback Zach Wilson completed 25 of 34 passes of 310 yards with three touchdown passes in the win.

This game will likely be Wilson’s final game in a Cougars uniform as his NFL draft stock rises. The junior is third in the nation with a 73.2% completion percentage. He has 3267 passing yards, which is the fifth-best in the country. Wilson has accounted for 3509 total yards this season, which is the most in the FBS. He leads an offense that scores 43.0 points-per-game while averaging 510.1 yards-per-game, which ranks sixth and eighth-best in the country.

The BYU defense has also been outstanding this season. The Cougars are holding their opponents to just 14.6 points-per-game and 315.8 yards-per-game, which are the third and ninth-best marks in the nation.

While BYU missed out on their college football playoff aspirations, there are still many accomplishments this team with a 10-1 record can still achieve in head coach Kalani Sitake’s fifth year with the program. A victory in this game would give the Cougars their first 11-win season since 2009. A win would also produce their first one-loss season since 1996.

Central Florida returns to action for the first time since November 27th when they defeated South Florida on the road, 58-46. Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel completed 22 of 36 passes for 336 yards with four touchdown passes and one interception in the victory. Gabriel has thrown for 3353 yards this season while accounting for 3491 total yards overall. He has thrown at least 300 yards seven times this season while topping 400 passing yards four times. The Knights’ offense ranks second in the nation by averaging 373.0 passing yards-per-game. UCF scores 44.3 points-per-game while averaging 585.6 yards-per-game which are the fifth and second-best marks in the country.

Central Florida is 6-3 this season, with their losses to Tulsa, Memphis, and Cincinnati being by a combined 12 points. The Knights enjoyed a 25-game winning streak from the opening of the 2017 season, where they won all five of their games decided by one possession. Yet their three losses last year in a 10-3 campaign were by seven combined points before their tough luck in close games continued this season. UCF has lost seven of their last eight games decided by one scoring possession.

Expectations were high for the Knights in the third season under head coach Josh Heupel. Central Florida was 10-3 last year, and they have won 35 of their 39 games in Heupel’s tenure. Sixteen starters were initially returning from that group. Yet 17 players had opted-out by October for one reason or another (including some legal issues). Senior wide receiver Marlon Williams opted-out for this bowl game after the win over the Bulls. The Knights will miss his 79 receptions for 1039 yards along with ten touchdowns.

Departures on defense have contributed to UCF taking a step back in productivity this season. The Knights have lost six previous starters on that unit from opt-outs to injury. Central Florida is allowing 31.4 points-per-game along with 473.7 yards-per-game this season. Heupel brings in a young and depleted defensive group into this game. Yet the Knights' coaching staff has had three weeks of bowl practice to prepare for this game.

BookMaker lists BYU as a 6-point favorite with the total set at 75.5. The ESPN broadcast starts at 7 PM ET.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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