Sports Illustrated’s Gasparilla Bowl pick between UF and UCF might surprise you

·3 min read

Florida will conclude what has been a frustrating season on Thursday night. The team went 6-6 and fired coach Dan Mullen after a 2-6 finish in SEC play, the worst in program history for the Gators. They reached bowl eligibility thanks to a win over Florida State under interim coach Greg Knox, and now Knox and Mullen’s remaining staffers will coach one final game in the Gasparilla Bowl against the UCF Knights.

Despite the way it finished the season, UF is about a touchdown favorite against the 8-4 Knights, depending on where you look. However, Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde doesn’t have a lot of confidence in this team, and in his predictions for each bowl game, he picked a Central Florida upset.

UCF season in a sentence: Gus Malzahn arrived, Dillon Gabriel got hurt and hit the transfer portal, and the glory days of 2017–18 receded a little further in the rearview mirror.

Florida season in a sentence: Tire fire.

Better or worse than the 1973 Liberty Bowl: Worse, even with the in-state (non)rivalry stakes.

Line: Florida by 6.5.

Dash pick: UCF 21, Florida 19. There are two competing schools of thought here. On the one hand, the Knights’ in-state players who were not recruited by the Gators should bring superior motivation against a team that has performed listlessly for months. On the other hand, Malzahn is 2–5 against the spread in bowl games since nearly winning the 2013 national championship as a 10-point underdog.

There’s no doubt that UCF will be the more motivated team in this one. The Knights certainly have a bone to pick with the flagship university, and even in a down year for the Gators, a win against them would mean a lot for the Central Florida program.

UF, meanwhile, knows the program is about to undergo wholesale changes under new coach Billy Napier, and it’s unclear how motivated the players that haven’t opted out or transferred will be in the last game with a lame-duck coaching staff.

The Gators will look to earn a win and avoid their third sub-.500 finish since 2013.

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