Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET, St. Petersburg, Fla. (ESPN)
UCF take from WolverineNation's Chantel Jennings: In its final season in Conference USA before it moves to the Big East, UCF exited its conference play with an overtime loss to Tulsa in the championship game. So, in a trip about 100 miles down the road the Knights will try to erase that memory with a win in the Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl.
The Knights were a stalwart on defense this season, putting together the conference’s best scoring defense (22.5 points/game), best pass defense (217.8 yards/game) and second best in both total defense (380.2 yards/game) and redzone defense.
It will be the second time UCF takes the field in St. Petersburg as a part of the bowl and the fifth time in school history the Knights have gone bowling. And in its final bowl trip as a C-USA member it’ll take on a team out of the conference that it will join next season, the Big East.
Pacing the Knights this season has been sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles, who could pass the 3,000-yard season passing mark in the bowl game. Despite making up for three of UCF’s touchdowns, his 14-of-32 passing performance against Tulsa was one of his worst of the season (though the 30-plus mph winds might have had a part in that). The talented sophomore will look to build on his impressive season with a final win for C-USA.
Ball State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Although Northern Illinois and Kent State received most of the attention during a historic season for the MAC, Ball State quietly put together a very successful run under second-year coach Pete Lembo. The Cardinals won their final six games, including triumphs against Toledo and Ohio, to match the third-highest victories total in team history.
Ball State boasts a dynamic offense that ranks 22nd nationally in total yards and 31st in scoring, and eclipsed 200 rushing yards seven times, including four times in the final five games. Talented sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards racked up 786 yards and nine touchdowns in the final six regular-season contests. Wide receiver Willie Snead ranks in the top 25 nationally in both receptions and receiving yards.
Ball State’s defense struggles against the run (106th nationally), but the overall unit improved as the season went along. The Cardinals’ only losses came at Clemson and against the two MAC frontrunners. Three of Ball State’s six major bowl appearances have come in the past six seasons, although the Cardinals are still searching for their first bowl victory.