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Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl preview: Central Florida vs. Ball State

Frank Schwab
Dr. Saturday

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Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl
Central Florida (9-4) vs. Ball State (9-3)
Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Knights: Central Florida can't be too excited to be in this game, considering its last game was a heartbreaking overtime loss to Tulsa that cost it the Conference USA title and a trip to the Liberty Bowl. This is an offense led by running back Latavius Murray, who has a touchdown in each of his last eight games, and a defense led by safety Kemal Ishmael, a playmaker who racked up 116 tackles this season and was named Conference USA defensive player of the year. A player to watch is kickoff returner Quincy McDuffie, who was the conference special teams player of the year.

About the Cardinals: Quarterback Keith Wenning's health is the major story going into

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this game for Ball State. Wenning fractured his right ankle and required surgery, the Muncie Star Press reported. The injury caused Wenning to miss the final game-and-a-half of the regular season. But rehab appears to be going well and Wenning has been practicing leading up to the bowl. It appears he will play against Central Florida. But Ball State needs Wenning to be his normal self. Wenning, a junior who has started since he was a freshman, has thrown for 2,878 yards and 22 touchdowns this year. If Wenning is at full speed, Ball State's offense is pretty good. It ranked 22nd in total offense in FBS and 31st in points scored in FBS, and often covered up the flaws of a mediocre defense.

Key number: 0-5
Ball State has lost all five of its bowl appearances in school history. Even worse, last year it was one of two bowl-eligible teams that didn't get an invitation to a postseason game, which might make this year's team more determined to prove it belongs in a bowl.

The breakdown: Neither of these teams is a big name, but this should be a good game. Ball State won six in a row to finish the season and its losses were to Northern Illinois, Kent State and Clemson, which have five losses combined. UCF hasn't lost to anybody but Tulsa since the start of October. Ball State has a good, balanced offense but UCF has been pretty solid on defense for most of the season. And UCF should be able to move the ball against a Ball State defense that had its issues this season.

Predictions
Frank Schwab: Ball State 28, UCF 24

Ball State is a pretty good team out of a deep and strong conference. These games can come down to motivation a lot of times, and the Cardinals want to be the first team in school history to bring home a bowl win. As long as Wenning is healthy, they'll pull the upset.

Graham Watson: Ball State 31, UCF 21
Ball State has been undervalued all season long, but they come into this game as one of the nation's hottest teams - winning six in a row - and will be motivated to finish off what has been an unexpectedly good season. UCF lost its conference championship game and doesn't have a whole lot for which to play. Ball State puts #MACtion on display in this one.

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