UCF vs. Marshall Pick – Gasparilla Bowl Analysis & Predictions
UCF Knights (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Marshall Thundering Herd (8-4 SU, 4-8 ATS)
When: Monday, Dec. 23, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Point Spread: UCF -17/MRSH +17 (Bovada)
Total: O/U 61
The video game offense of UCF makes its way across Interstate 4 to the home of its rival, where it faces off against Marshall its bowl game. UCF might be down by its standards, but a 9-3 campaign is still a pretty solid year, and the Knights have a chance at a third-straight 10-win season, which would go a long way toward further establishing the program as a genuine long-term power.
However, Marshall has established itself as a big-game team, winning its past seven bowl game appearances. Tampa Bay has been a home away from home for the Thundering Herd, as Marshall has played in either Tampa or St. Petersburg three times under coach Doc Holliday, and the Herd have won all three of them, including winning last year’s Gasparilla Bowl over South Florida, which was playing in its home stadium. In fact, Holliday’s never lost a bowl game as the Marshall coach, although the Herd has never faced an opponent quite like this one in his tenure.
How the Public is Betting the UCF/Marshall Game
The line has held firm, but the total has gone up from 59 to 61.5, with the public expecting points.
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Quarterback Brandon Wimbush has opted out of the bowl to focus on the NFL Draft.
Wide receivers Talik Keaton and Tavin Richardson are both questionable with unspecified injuries.
When UCF Has the Ball
It’s not clear why Brandon Wimbush is bothering to opt-out, because he wasn’t likely to play anyway unless something happened to Dillon Gabriel. Gabriel has taken control of the Knights’ offense and picked up where McKenzie Milton left off. For the most part, his decision making has been excellent, as he’s thrown 27 touchdowns against just seven interceptions this season and hasn’t turned it over in nine of the Knights’ 12 games. But if you’ve done the math, you might know that the number of games where he hasn’t turned the ball over is the same as UCF’s number of wins. The Knights are 9-0 when Gabriel doesn’t throw a pick and 0-3 when he does, as he’s managed to bunch all seven picks into those three losses and has just four touchdowns in them.
Basically, the key to stopping the Knights is keeping Gabriel from beating you. UCF doesn’t have the kind of running game that can take over a game, as Otis Anderson leads the Knights with a mere 665 yards on the ground. If the Marshall pass defense is on, this game will be closer than people expect.
When Marshall Has the Ball
The Thundering Herd live up to their name, as they ride a ground game led by Brenden Knox’s 1,284 rushing yards to success. Knox has rushed for 11 touchdowns and is the spearhead of the Herd’s attack, and his importance to the Marshall attack is evident in the team’s record. When Knox gets at least 100 yards on the ground, the Herd is 6-0, but when he fails to hit that mark, they’re just 2-4, and one of those was against VMI, where Knox only got ten carries because the game was such a rout.
Stopping the run doesn’t make Marshall one-dimensional by any means, because Isaiah Green can still throw the ball quite well, as he’s posted 2,265 passing yards and 14 touchdowns this season. But if UCF can slow Knox down, the Herd might be hard-pressed to come up with a clearly defined Plan B that can get the job done against the Knights.
Quite frankly, these two have been pretty awful when it comes to covering the spread. UCF has a bit of an excuse for its 2-7 record ATS in its past nine, as it’s always been the favored team because of its name, and the public consistently pushes the Knights a little higher than they should be. I think the official name for this is Nebraska syndrome, and if it isn’t, it should be. Anyway, Marshall doesn’t have the name that UCF does, but it’s just 3-7 in its last ten overall. However, when the public doesn’t believe in the Herd, that’s when they’re at their best. In their past 13 as an underdog, the Herd has gone 10-3, and their bowl success has continued into the betting world: Marshall has never failed to cover a bowl game’s spread.
As far as the total is concerned, the Knights tend to play even faster on grass surfaces, as the over has hit in six of their past seven games played on the natural surface. As for Marshall, when they lose the game before, they tend to come out and put up a statement the next game, as Marshall is 10-3 in its last 13 games where it’s been coming off a defeat ATS. In short, the elements are there for a big number.
It’s Tampa in December, which means practically perfect weather. Temperatures are expected to be close to 71 degrees at kickoff.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
Where is UCF’s mindset as it goes into this game? Marshall is exactly where it wants to be, coming off a regular season that saw it put up wins in six of its final seven games and included a win at C-USA champ Florida Atlantic, but what about the Knights? Will they be ready to play in a lesser bowl game after spending the past two years in the New Years’ Six games? Or will they consider this bowl to be barely worth showing up for and turn in a listless performance?
If UCF shows up ready to play, there is little reason to believe that Marshall has much of a chance. But UCF has been known to play down to its competition this year, and I have to think that their motivation is going to be lacking in a second-tier bowl game. Give me the Herd and the points.