No. 16 BYU and UCF is a matchup that should have fans excited and luckily for us, we'll get this showdown featured early in the 2020-21 bowl season as the Cougars and Knights battle in the Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday night.
The Cougars were one of the most successful teams in all of college football this year but were ultimately knocked by the College Football Playoff selection committee for its strength of schedule. When the opportunity came to take on Coastal Carolina in an undefeated vs. undefeated battle, the result, a heartbreaking 22-17 loss that ended 1-yard short of the game-winning touchdown, left BYU on the outside looking in as a playoff crasher.
UCF has its own desire to finish the year strong after some disappointment following the second-straight season of missing out on the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. The Knights have not fallen off from their standard of fielding high-powered offenses and scoring at a fast and furious pace, but a growing trend of falling short in close games has resulted in a slide from going undefeated in AAC play in 2018, losing two conference games in 2019 and then losing three in 2020. Beating BYU won't make up for missing out on a conference title, but it would build confidence in where the Knights stand against the best teams and programs in the country.
BYU: Falling short of the playoff or even the New Year's Six doesn't reverse the dominance and success the Cougars showed in 2020. BYU is the only FBS team ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense (No. 9), scoring defense (No. 3), total offense (No. 10) and total defense (No. 10). It's one of the best teams in program history, which enjoyed its first 10-win season since 2011, and its explosive offense is led by one of the top players in the country in quarterback Zach Wilson.
This is a roster loaded with All-America candidates but Wilson has been unique, ranking in the top five nationally in passing touchdowns, passing yards per attempt, passing efficiency, completion percentage, passing yards and total points responsible for, where he ranks No. 2 in the nation. BYU fans will be dialed in to this one because it's possible that Wilson, currently projected as a top-10 pick in next year's NFL Draft, could be playing his last game in a Cougars uniform. Since Wilson led the Cougars to a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl during his freshman season, he has a chance to become just the third quarterback in BYU history (joining Jim McMahon and Max Hall) to lead the team to multiple wins in bowl games.
UCF: Josh Heupel has a 28-7 record as UCF's coach. He led the Knights to an undefeated regular season in 2018, but a narrow Fiesta Bowl loss prevented back-to-back 13-0 seasons for the program, then followed that up with a 10-3 showing in 2019. Losing to Cincinnati by a field goal put the Bearcats, not the Knights, into the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, but there wasn't much concern considering how well the offense was playing and a general dominance against most of the opponents.
After a 6-3 showing in this limited season, though, a troubling trend has emerged for UCF. On one hand, all seven of Josh Heupel's losses have been by one-score. His teams have never been totally out of any game it's played, including showdowns with Power Five opponents. But on the other hand, UCF doesn't have a ton of one-score wins, either. Since the start of 2018, UCF is 2-7 in one-score games, and those losses (two of them to Cincinnati by a combined six points and two of them to Tulsa by a combined 11 points) have resulted in UCF falling from the top 25. The Knights can run up the score against a team with lesser talent and athleticism, but these close losses against ranked opponents put a ceiling on how far they can reach in the rankings. Beating BYU by any score is what fans want, but showing they can win in a close game against a quality opponent would be a great way to reverse that trend before it becomes a narrative around this team.
Game: Boca Raton Bowl
Date: Tuesday, Dec. 22 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: FAU Stadium -- Boca Raton, Florida
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Boca Raton Bowl prediction, picks
While some coaches bang the table and try to play the politics game when it comes the College Football Playoff rankings, Kilani Sitake is all about taking care of business. There won't be a need to do any extra motivating as the Cougars try to prove they belong as one of the best teams in the country -- because they have been all year. Pick: BYU -6.5 | BYU 40, UCF 33
So who wins BYU vs. UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl? And which side of the spread hits well over 50 percent of the time? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the spread to back, all from the advanced model that is up over $3,500 on its top-rated picks against the spread over the past four-plus seasons.