Central Florida won’t have to leave their city for this bowl game in Orlando, Florida, while Arkansas State will have to travel a bit further.
Central Florida Knights
The Knights did not win one football game last season, but have rebounded very well this season to make a bowl game under new head coach Scott Frost. This may be more of a factor of scheduling rather than actual improvement due to the fact that they didn’t beat an FBS team who finished above 4-8 on the season. They did beat South Carolina State, who is good traditionally at the FCS level, but that is the only decent win out of their six.
Incumbent quarterback Justin Holman battled injury this season, which led to freshman McKenzie Milton taking over as starting quarterback. He wasn’t very good, but finished with 1,808 passing yards and nine touchdowns. With seven interceptions, his struggles have been pretty apparent.
The running game hasn’t been that great either for the Knights. Jawon Hamilton rushed for 481 yards on 3.7 yards per carry, while Dontravious Wilson rushed for 463 yards on 3.9 yards per carry. That won’t move the chains very often. Their freshman speedster, Adrian Killins, has been the most effective runner when he gets the ball, with 7.2 yards per carry. He doesn’t get many carries, but will need to be featured more in this game to help pick up yardage.
Tre’Quan Smith is the receiver who stands out above the rest. His 54 receptions, 808 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns lead the team. If Milton gets anything done through the air, Smith will be the one most responsible for it.
UCF’s offense is inconsistent at best, but the defense is just average allowing 24.1 points per game. The run defense is average with the pass defense being a little bit better.
The reason UCF has been successful this season is their pass rush. They have 36 sacks, which is 15th best in the country. Linebacker Shaquem Griffin has a third of the teams’ sacks with 12. The most impressive thing about Griffin? He only has one hand and plays the position better than most people with two hands. He is also the key to the Knight’s chances in this bowl game.
Arkansas State Red Wolves
Arkansas State lost all of their non-conference games before going 7-1 in conference play. Their most impressive wins is against Troy, who had an impressive season at 9-3, and South Alabama who went .500 on the year.
The Red Wolves’ offense hasn’t been great, averaging 27 points per game, which is in the middle of the pack for the FBS. Justice Hansen took the reigns of the offense from Pittsburgh transfer Chad Voytick, Hansen was solid with a two to one touchdown to interception ratio and 2,514 yards. He has heated up as of late, with only two interceptions in November and December. Protecting the football will be his main priority in this game, as once he stopped throwing so many interceptions, his team started to go on a winning streak.
Warren Wand finished with just 867 yards on the season, but did not get as many carries as he should have. There was only one game where he got more than 20 carries, which is one of the two games he rushed for over 100 yards. If he gets enough carries he can be a game-changer in the Cure Bowl.
The ball is spread around to a lot of receivers, which means there isn’t one key guy the Knights can focus on. Arkansas State has six different receivers with over 200 yards. The pass attack isn’t dynamic, but can keep opponents on their heels with the amount of targets they have.
Arkansas State’s defense has been horrendous this season. They allow 38.7 points per game, which is tenth most points allowed in the FBS. They don’t give up that many yards per game, but don’t get teams in bad field position that often either.
Chris Odom is also one of the best pass rushers in the country with 11 sacks on the season. The Red Wolves will give up points, but Odom can help limit the amount by getting to the quarterback.
Both teams picked up a lot of wins against bad teams to get to this point. The UCF offense isn’t good, but anyone can score on the Red Wolves. Griffin will have a big game for the Knights and help give them good field position to score enough points to win the game.
UCF Knights 29 Arkansas State 24