Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg
Ball State vs. UCF, 7:30 PM ET
The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl this season offers two evenly matched teams as the Ball State Cardinals travel down to Florida to take on the University of Central Florida Knights at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg
The Knights have a high-powered offense that scored over 35 points over game this season and have a stout defense that was ranked 29th in scoring. Both units will give challenges to Ball State, who have allowed 31 points per game this season.
UCF has previously played in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in 2009, but lost to Rutgers 45-24. The team is moving from Conference USA to the Big East next season, meaning it will likely not play in the bowl game again in the future.
Ball State enters the game hot off of a six game winning streak, while UCF is coming off of a tough 33-27 loss in overtime to Tulsa in the Conference USA Football Championship game. Both teams will be looking to take advantage of mismatches and positional matchups on Friday night, here are some that may decide the game.
UCF QB Blake Bortles vs. Ball State Secondary
Bortles is the conductor of one of the highest-scoring offenses in Conference USA and will be facing a Cardinals secondary that gives up 253.9 yards per game. The Ball State defense is ranked 91st in scoring and will use cornerbacks Eric Patterson and Quintin Cooper to shut down UCF's wide receivers. The Cardinals secondary has picked off seven passes this season, including two interceptions each from Patterson and Cooper.
Bortles has a strong arm and has passed for 2,787 yards and 22 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. In the final regular-season loss to Tulsa, he threw for just 194 yards, but had two touchdowns along with a rushing score. Bortles is happy to be playing in the state of Florida, as he has thrown six interceptions on road compared to only one at home.
In the past five games Bortles has protected the ball, throwing for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Apart from two picks he threw against Marshall on Oct. 27, he hasn't thrown an interception since mid-September.
Wide receivers J.J. Worton and Rannell Hall will need to step up for the Knights, who went 7-1 in Conference USA, but lost in the championship game. Bortles has thrown for a touchdown in every game this season and had a season-high three scoring passes against Akron in the opening 56-14 win.
UCF RB Latavius Murray vs. Ball State DL Jonathan Newsome and Front Seven
Murray has been the spark for the Knights on offense this season, 1,035 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. He hasn't reached 100-yards in the past three games, but has scored three touchdowns in that span.
He missed three games earlier this season, but had a streak of four straight 100-yard games from mid-October through November. He rushed for 192 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-17 win over Memphis and had three touchdowns in a 54-17 victory over Marshall.
Newsome was dominant on the defensive line for the Cardinals this season, recording 12 tackles for loss totaling in 49 yards. He has 8.5 sacks this year and has made 25 tackles while playing in 10 games. He posted multiple-sack games twice this season and had one in the final win against Miami (OH).
Ball State QB Keith Wenning/ Kyle Kamman vs. UCF DB A.J. Bouye and Knight's Secondary
The Cardinals may have to use their third-string quarterback in this game after dealing with injuries to starter Keith Wenning and backup Kelly Page. Wenning is uncertain for the game after missing the regular-season finale against Miami of Ohio. The team also lost Page in the same game, leaving freshman Kyle Kamman as the only option.
Wenning has had a solid season for the Cardinals and led an offense that scored 35 points per game. He has thrown for 2,878 yards and 22 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, while completing over 65 percent of his passes. If he is missing for the bowl game, the offense will surely be struggling and will have to rely on running back Jahwan Edwards even more.
UCF gives up 217 passing yards per game and has a veteran secondary with three senior defensive backs, including A.J. Bouye, who has three interceptions on the season, tied with Kemal Ishmael for the team lead. Ishmael leads the team in total tackles with 116 and has 63 solo tackles. The amount production Ball State can get out of the passing game will be one of the biggest determining factors in the outcome of the game.
Cardinals RB Jahwan Edwards vs. DL Troy Davis and UCF Linebackers
Edwards has been the most dynamic player for Ball State this season, rushing for 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had 98 yards and three touchdowns in the regular-season finale against Miami and has scored at least one touchdown in five of the past six games.
In the opening season win against Eastern Michigan he had 200 yards rushing and had a streak of five straight games with at east 105 yards before playing against Miami. With the quarterback situation in flux, Ball State will focus even more on Edwards. For the same reason, the Knights will do the same.
Davis leads the team in sacks with 6.5 this season and has nine tackles for loss in 13 games played. The team is giving up 162 yards per game on the ground this season and will need to improve in that category to stop the Cardinals.
Cardinals Punter Scott Kovanda vs. UCF PR J.J. Worton and Return Unit
Yes, the punter. Kovanda and the Ball State punting unit have done something quite amazing this season. The team has allowed just four total return yards on 44 punts in 13 games this season. The Cardinals allowed eight yards to Indiana, but lowered the ttal due to negative yardage in two other games.
According to ESPN.com, "This will be the fourth meeting between Ball State and UCF. All three meetings took place while UCF was a member of the MAC from 2002-04."