In one of the most intriguing games of the entire bowl season, intra-state foes Florida and UCF will clash in Tampa in the Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday night. The Gators fired coach Dan Mullen before the end of the season, and Greg Knox will coach his final game as the interim coach before Billy Napier's staff takes over. They're coming off of a 24-21 win over rival Florida State to end the regular season -- a victory which earned them a .500 record and bowl eligibility.
Gus Malzahn's first year as UCF's coach didn't live up to program standards set by his predecessors Josh Heupel and Scott Frost, but the Knights won five of their last six including the War on I-4 against USF in the season finale.
What should you expect on Thursday night? Let's break down the game and make picks straight up and against the spread.
Florida vs. UCF: Need to know
Emory Jones' swan song: The fourth-year junior announced earlier this month that he will enter the transfer portal following the Gators' bowl game, which means that he could empty the tank against a Knights squad that will be motivated to beat "big brother." Jones accounted for 24 touchdowns (19 passing, four rushing, one receiving) this year, but the 13 interceptions and recklessness with the football was too hard to ignore. Will he have something up his sleeve? It's a safe assumption at this point.
Mikey Keene with a chance to breathe: Keene came in when starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel suffered a season-ending injury, and it didn't go well. He threw six interceptions in his first five games as the starter, and was more of a liability than a strength. He regrouped as he settled in and threw six touchdowns without an interception over the last four games of the season. The break for bowl practices will serve him well as he has had time to decompress and self-scout heading into the showdown with the Gators.
It just means more: The motivation for Florida is questionable considering this is the last game before the Napier regime takes over. UCF, on the other hand, will be pumped to have a bite at the Gators. These two programs finally agreed to a two-for-one series after years of verbal sparring, and UCF getting a downtrodden Gators squad in a bowl game in the Sunshine State is a great chance to prove its worth as a program.
How to watch Gasparilla Bowl live
Gasparilla Bowl prediction, picks
Both of these teams have been brutal against the spread this year -- UCF is 3-8 and Florida is 3-7-1 -- so there's no trend off which to work. Motivation is always a factor in bowl games, and UCF has it by the truckload. Expect Malzahn to open up his offense, take shots all over the field and force Florida into a shootout -- something the Gators want to avoid at all costs. Grab UCF and the points, but the money line is where the real payday is. Prediction: UCF (+6.5)
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