NC State v. UCF
Tropicana Field — St. Petersburg, FL
December 26, 2014 — 8:00 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
Cap off your Boxing Day after watching the games from Dallas and Detroit with a prime-time showdown between last season’s BCS Buster darling and a mid-level ACC program. It’s the second bowl game involving a baseball stadium in the state of Florida, except this one has the added benefit of being played inside a dome with weird sight lines and lighting. It’s not the most attractive of bowls, but it fits in perfectly with the post-Christmas coma that is standard operating procedure for the day after. Think of it as the gift you give to yourself to stock up on football before the long offseason.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
NC State brings one hell of a rushing attack to St. Petersburg, one that averages 206 yards per game. The Wolfpack lost five of their first six conference games, but rebounded with wins over Wake Forest and North Carolina to reach bowl eligibility. Jacoby Brissett doesn’t threaten defenses much with his arm, but the quarterback has nearly 500 rushing yards to go with over 2300 passing yards. NC State was 4-0 out of conference, including a win in the season opener against Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern. Ultimately the Wolfpack lost to the teams you’d expect and defeated the teams they needed to beat to get to seven wins. In terms of points scored and points allowed, Dave Doeren’s crew ranked right in the middle of the FBS field in both categories (61st in scoring offense, 68th in scoring defense.)
The Knights had a bit of an identity crisis earlier in the season before settling on Justin Holman as the successor to Blake Bortles at quarterback. Other than a hiccup against Connecticut, UCF was perfect in conference play to grab a share of the AAC title for the second straight season. The offense isn’t much to write home about, faring poorly in the running game and regressing from last year through the air. Where the Knights are strong is on defense; despite three losses, UCF was ranked eighth nationally in points allowed per game. The stingy unit kept opponents under 18 points per game, a big factor in the team’s turnaround after an 0-2 start. They missed out on another big-time bowl berth after last year’s Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor, but UCF has a chance at redemption after losing both of its tests against Power Five competition this season.
What is Likely to Happen
NC State is far more likely to give UCF chances to score than the Knights are likely to offer to the Wolfpack. Justin Holman will outshine Jacoby Brissett on Florida’s Gulf coast, and the home-state team will be on track for its fourth consecutive win in a bowl game. The defense will fuel the effort, generating at least one timely turnover to kill an NC State drive, and could force the Wolfpack to settle for several field goals. It won’t be pretty, but in the end UCF will head back on the I-4 to Orlando after a comfortable finish with the result securely in hand.
UCF 34, NC State 23