After years of discussion, debate and trash talk, it’s finally happening. According to Brett McMurphy, UCF and Florida will face off. The Knights and Gators are set to play in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 23 in a matchup that will determine the best team in Florida after a statewide down year.
There’s no way around the fact that this will be a very tough game for UCF. While Florida is just 6-6, fired its head coach and allowed a combined 82 points to South Carolina and Samford in a seven-day span, the Knights have had plenty of their own struggles. UCF was decimated by injuries throughout the season and at minimum will be without Kalia Davis, Bryson Armstrong and former quarterback Dillon Gabriel for the bowl game.
Some UCF fans seem to be panicking a bit on social media. It’s easy to chant “we want Florida” when the Knights are 12-0 and steamrolling everyone they play. But that doesn’t change that this game presents a great opportunity for UCF, providing the potential for a huge reward with very little risk.
Let’s be clear: the expectation right now both within the state and nationally is that UCF would lose badly. It’s the same talking points you’ve heard for years. UCF is a Group of Five team who doesn’t play anyone, the SEC is miles ahead of the rest of football, etc.
So, if UCF does in fact march out onto the field and get blown out, nothing changes. What was expected to happen happened. UCF’s brand wasn’t damaged since no one was surprised and no recruits or fans are flipping their allegiances off of a bowl game between a 6-win team and 8-win team.
But if the Knights do literally anything better than getting blown out, they come out ahead. If UCF loses a close one to Florida, then the narrative changes to how little of a gap there is between the two programs. Recruits can be pitched on being the missing piece that can come in and put the Knights over the top.
And just think of a world where UCF wins. Yes, Florida fans will likely trot out the usual excuses of the team not caring about the bowl or NFL opt-outs making a difference. But it doesn’t matter. UCF played Florida, won, and can use that in recruiting pitches, to sell season tickets, to hype up donors and to drop on social media any time someone with a UF connection declares they are the dominant program of the state.
And, on a more profound level, this is what bowl games should be. Raymond James Stadium may very well be sold out. Bowls should be about awesome regional matchups that get the whole state interested in the result. UCF would take the risk of losing to Florida a million times over a meaningless win against a Sun Belt team in front of a half-empty Cure Bowl crowd.
UCF has nothing to lose and everything to gain. This bowl should be a lot of fun.