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Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl preview

Another game in the NCAA Bowl series previewed by James Jack, @materialista27. So far this season, he is split and 3-3 on his picks, but the analysis has been very sharp each time. Read more of his work on his special College Bowl site.

Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl St. Petersburg

Friday December 21st, 7:30pm ET (00:30 GMT)

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida

Ball State Cardinals vs. University of Central Florida Knights


The Beef O'Brady's Bowl St Petersburg is one of the sillier named bowls this season, it was formerly simply known as the St. Petersburg Bowl until restaurant chain Beef O'Brady's sponsored the bowl in 2009. The bowl game traditionally features teams from the Big East Conference and Conference USA. This year, as the Big East doesn't have enough bowl eligible teams, Ball State from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) was invited as an at-large team. This is the second year in a row without a Big East side, as the 2011 game featured Marshall from Conference USA and FIU stepping up from the Sun Belt Conference.

Ball State finished the season at 9-3 and won their last six, their only losses coming to (25)Kent State, (15)Northern Illinois and (14)Clemson all very good football teams. They have plenty of momentum going into this one and they haven't won a bowl game since, well, never. That's a big motivation to get the job done and they have plenty of offense to help them out. They average 35 points per game and 471.3 yards per game, that kind of production should shred the UCF defense that gives up 380.2 yards and 22.5 points. The Cardinals average 214.5 yards per game on the ground and over 250 yards through the air. Quarterback Keith Wenning has torched opposition defenses for 22 TDs giving up 10 TDs and top receiver Willie Snead gained over 1000 yards while sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards has ground out 1321 yards and 14 TDs so the balance is there. There are doubts over Wenning's participation after he broke his ankle against Ohio in November missing the last game of the regular season, but he practised all week and he says he's good to go.

UCF on the other hand have compiled a modest 9-4 record losing out to Tulsa in the Conference USA Championship game in Overtime. This is their final season in C-USA before they move to the Big East next year and they are only bowl-eligible this year as they have appealed their post-season ban for recruiting violations under former athletic director Keith Tribble. The high-scoring Knights, averaged 35.2 points in the regular season, are led by Blake Bortles, who threw for 2,787 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The bruising Latavius Murray has powered the ground game with 1,035 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, good for 5.85 yard per carry. The ground game had carried UCF through the season and it will prove crucial against the Ball State run defense that ranks a lowly 107th in the nation.

FOR BALL STATE TO WIN

Speed, power and taking every opportunity. The offense that has powered them all season has to make up for their butt-ugly defense, especially in what is essentially a home game for UCF. The Knights have only lost to Missouri at home this season, and the Cardinals have to stay with UCF's offense in this game to give them a chance. Establishment of the running game is always important in bowl games, especially to control the clock as we've seen in the New Mexico Bowl; you can't rely on a 13 point lead, even in the last minute. If they can gain significant yards on the ground, Wenning will have the opportunity to pick apart the UCF secondary and put this game away.

FOR UCF TO WIN

Ground and pound, the Cardinal run defense is awful. The Knights offensive line needs to punch a hole in the Ball State defense and let Latavius Murray and Storm Johnson sprint through it. Defensively, they need to get at Keith Wenning and put him on his backside, pressure him in the pocket and make him throw off that bad ankle in a scrambling situation. Although Wenning has been very accurate in the red zone, the passing game has struggled the further it has been from the goal-line. The Knights can't allow the Cardinals to move the chains on the ground; they have to make Ball State beat them through the air. This is a big night for Kemal Ishmael and Clayton Geathers, if they can strangle Snead's influence on the game, that will give UCF a massive chance of winning their second bowl in the last three years.

VERDICT

Ball State comes out and tries to run over UCF, when the Knights adjust to try to stifle the run, Wenning and Snead will begin to make bigger and bigger plays through the air. Both defenses are pretty poor, so for me it comes down to the efficiency of the offenses, and Ball State has that in abundance both in terms of yards and points. The UCF offense is good enough to keep them in this game, but with the momentum of a six game winning streak and the chance to win the school's first bowl title in their history, I'd much rather be on Ball State in this one.

ADVICE

Ball State +7

Over 61.5 points

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