|Blake Bortles and UCF are looking for a bowl win against Ball State (US Presswire)|
Ball State Cardinals (9-3; 6-2 MAC)
The Cardinals are 0-5 all time in bowls but are riding a six-game win streak heading into their matchup with UCF. What started out as a middling season with three losses in the first six suddenly turned to gold as quarterback Keith Wenning and running back Jahwan Edwards came alive in the latter half of the slate. Wenning completed almost 71 percent of his passes and threw 11 touchdowns during the streak, while Edwards averaged 131 yards and scored nine touchdowns. Wenning did miss the season finale against Miami (Ohio) with an ankle injury but backup Kelly Page filled in admirably in the win before also getting hurt. Look for Wenning to get the start against UCF. While mustering some offense shouldn't be a problem, the defense needs to step up if the Cardinals are going to pull off the upset. Ball State is giving up almost 32 points per game, although it hasn't allowed more than 27 in the past five outings.
At Their Best: The Cardinals upset in-state rival and Big Ten foe Indiana, 41-39, back on Sept. 15. Wenning threw three touchdown passes, caught another and moved the Cardinals 44 yards in the final 49 seconds to set up Steven Schott's winning 42-yard field goal as time expired. It was the third-consecutive win for BSU over Indiana.
At Their Worst: Ball State were leading Northern Illinois 23-14 in the third quarter of game six, but couldn't hold on as Jordan Lynch led the Huskies back for a 35-23 win. Wenning's 434 passing yards were all for nought as Lynch piled up 195 yards through the air and 207 on the ground.
Headliner: Wenning's competitive fire has carried BSU to this bowl. He threw for 2,878 yards and 22 touchdowns (with 10 interceptions) while also rushing for 124 yards and three more scores. He's worked hard to get back for the bowl game despite suffering a fractured bone in his right ankle against Ohio. While he may not take every snap against the Knights, his mere presence will serve as an inspiration for his team.
UCF Knights (9-4; 7-1 Conf. USA)
A few twists and turns aside, UCF could very well be 12-1 and in a BCS bowl. The Knights battled hard, but lost some close ones this year. They acquitted themselves quite well in a 31-16 loss to Ohio State in week two and were edged by Missouri, 21-16, two weeks later. UCF then rattled off six-straight wins in conference before getting clipped by Tulsa, 23-21. The Knights won the East Division of Conference USA but were beaten again by the Golden Hurricanes, 33-27 in overtime, in the C-USA title game. UCF's offense is a balanced attack led by sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles (2,787 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 205 rush yards, 7 TDs) and senior running back Latavius Murray (1,035 yards, 14 TDs). One advantage for the Knights in this matchup is their defense, which has done fairly well against top-level competition, and their return game led by Quincy McDuffie (three kick return TDs).
At Their Best: The Knights doubled up on East Carolina in early October, drubbing the Pirates, 40-20, thanks to 269 passing yards from Bortles, four field goals from placekicker Shawn Moffitt and a timely 99-yard kickoff return touchdown from McDuffie, who put UCF on the board after trailing 14-0.
At Their Worst: Bortles (169 passing yards) and Murray (60 rush yards) both struggled against Tulsa in their first meeting as the UCF offense managed just 235 total yards and 14 first downs while the defense gave up 461 in a 23-21 loss.
Headliner: Safety Kemal Ishmael was voted the team's MVP and the two-time All-Conference-USA selection was more than worthy after leading the team with 116 tackles, including three interceptions, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a sack.
What: Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
When: Friday, Dec. 21 • 7:30 p.m. ET • ESPN.
Where: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Line: UCF (-7.5).
Prediction: Expect lots of fireworks and excitement from both offenses, but UCF will make the big defensive plays when it counts and that should be the difference in this one.
UCF 45, Ball State 31