FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Read & Watch: Billy Napier Introductory Press Conference
- The Inside Scoop: Notes from Napier's first team meeting
- Coaching search consultant Landry goes in-depth on Mullen and Napier
- Head Coach Hot Board Profile: Napier
- Ranking the current commitments from least to most likely to sign with Florida
- Florida's Great Eight Targets
- Inside the Gators: Mock Signing Class 7.0
- Left scrambling, Florida extends an unprecedented eight October offers
The Florida Gators and Central Florida Knights are set to square off in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl to finish the 2021 season.
Those clamoring for a matchup between the Gators and the Knights sooner than 2024 will finally get their wish. Thing is these are not exactly the strongest teams in these programs’ recent histories.
It’s their first matchup since 2006. Florida won that contest 42-0 as Chris Leak threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns, with Percy Harvin on the receiving end of 99 of those yards and a score.
After going by the magicJack, Beef O’Brady’s and St. Petersburg Bowl, this postseason game’s only been around since 2008. Traditionally featuring Conference USA and Big East/American Athletic Conference teams, Florida found itself selected due to a lack of bowl-eligible teams for C-USA.
- Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
- When: Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021 at 7 p.m.
- How to watch: ESPN, WatchESPN app
Meet the Knights
Central Florida finished its regular season at 8-4 and 5-3 in the AAC. It started the season unranked and receiving votes and ended the season unranked as well. The Knights won five of their last six games after starting the season 3-3.
The UCF edition of the Gus Malzahn offense is manned by freshman quarterback Mikey Keene. Keene took over for Dillon Gabriel when Gabriel suffered a broken collarbone and was lost for the year. Keene posted 1586 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes (159/250).
The offense boasts three running backs with at least 300 yards. Johnny Richardson leads everyone with 693 yards (6.9 per carry) and three touchdowns. There’s also Isaiah Bowser with 549 and seven but he hasn’t seen the field since Nov. 6 and Mark-Antony Richards who has 309 yards on 48 carries and saw his role increase with Bowser out.
Just like a Malzahn offense, the Knights don’t throw it a ton. However, they do have a wideout in Ryan O’Keefe who is having his best year as a Knight. He has a team-leading 77 catches for 727 yards. The team’s leader in receiving TDs is Brandon Johnson with 11. He averaged almost 15 yards per catch in 12 games.
Linebacker Tatum Bethune leads a defense that was third in AAC with 25 points allowed per game. Bethune has 101 total tackles on the year. Not just that but 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and two interceptions.
Cornerback Quadric Bullard is the second-leading tackler with 79 along with three fumble recoveries. He led a secondary that allowed 213 passing yards per game. Auburn transfer Big Kat Bryant threw up six sacks and 13 TFLs this year for a rush defense that’s middle of the pack in the AAC.
This is an intriguing matchup because of the opponents’ proximities to each other along with the venue. A little under 130 miles separates these two campuses. Both are only about two hours to Raymond James Stadium too.
Not only does this act as a prelude to the two-for-one between the Gators and Knights, but it’s also the beginning of the team’s auditions for new headman Billy Napier and draft-eligible players’ last chance during the season to put on good tape.
A win secures Florida’s four consecutive winning season while a loss gives the Gators their first losing record since 2017.
And the most important thing on the line? Bragging rights until 2024.