Florida vs. UCF Prediction, Pick Against the Spread, and Latest Odds

Florida vs. UCF prediction and pick for this week's Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Florida. As these Florida schools get set to face-off, Alex Kirshner gives us his pick
Alex Kirshner |
Mon, December 20, 9:02 AM EST | 4 min read
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Florida vs. UCF Prediction, Pick Against the Spread, and Latest Odds

Florida Gators vs. UCF Knights - Gasparilla Bowl

Spread: Florida -6.5

Total: Over 55.5

Game time: Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, Tampa, FL

Where to watch: ESPN

Florida vs. UCF odds

Florida vs. UCF Prediction

After a few years of playing footsie, UCF and Florida agreed earlier this year to play a three-game regular-season series starting in 2024. When those games come around, they’ll probably be a lot of fun –– the Knights trying to bounce the Gators out of a raucous environment in the Bounce House, the Gators trying to put what’ll by that time be a Big 12 program in its place. The eventual UF-UCF clashes will get a lot of deserved hype and should be great games.

The 2021 Gasparilla Bowl, then, is a sort of prequel. Neither team is all that stoked to be here. UCF wants to win the AAC every year and play in a New Year’s Six bowl at minimum, and Florida wants to win the SEC East or at least find itself in its own New Year’s bowl. But the Knights lost QB Dillon Gabriel to a broken collarbone in Week 4 (and to a transfer to UCLA a few days ago), took a bunch of other injuries, and went a disappointing 8-4 in Gus Malzahn’s first year. The Gators tanked down the stretch, fired Dan Mullen, and had to beat Florida State in the last game of the season to get the 15 extra practices that come with a bowl appearance. The program’s top priority now is recruiting under new coach Billy Napier, and the Gasparilla Bowl feels like an appendage. Greg Knox will serve as the interim coach for this game.

Why bring all that up? Because there’s high mess potential on both sides of this matchup, making it a hard game to pick based on traditional projection methods. We won’t know how geared-up either team is until we actually see them play. That’s a risk with every bowl (and, to some extent, every game in general), but it does seem especially acute for this matchup.

Given the cloudy nature of this game, I think the value play is to bet on points. As of this writing, the over has cashed in seven of the first eight FBS bowls of 2021. (The lone under came in the Oregon State-Utah State LA Bowl.) Defense has more or less been optional this postseason, and I don’t know why that would change in the Gasparilla Bowl.

Florida’s defense is mediocre and the main reason the Gators backslid far enough to get Mullen fired. I expect some improvement next year under new coordinator Patrick Toney, who did great work with Napier at Louisiana. But I don’t know that the 2021 defense is fixable. The Gators are just over a month removed from giving up 52 points at home to an FCS team (Samford). They’re not really as bad as that performance, but I’d expect UCF to score somewhere in the 20s, because everyone does that against Florida. Not since a Week 6 shutout of Vanderbilt have the Gators let up fewer than 21 points, and UCF’s offense is better than several teams the Gators saw in that stretch. I’d expect the Knights to pull some weight toward this total.

But the main reason I like the over is that Florida, with all its faults, should score a bit in this game. This could always change, but it sounds like quarterback Emory Jones is going to play prior to transferring elsewhere for next season. (The Gators’ other QB, Anthony Richardson, will not play.) If Jones plays, the Florida offense could pretty easily get into the 30s against a lackluster UCF defense. If he doesn’t, uh, maybe Florida could still score a bunch? UCF gave up 30 points two months ago to an extremely offensively challenged Navy, and the Knights’ biggest problem has been stopping the run. Florida can tote the rock efficiently no matter who’s playing quarterback, and no matter which of Florida’s many running backs is most featured. The UCF defense hasn’t been choosy about whom it allows yards to this season.

The uncertainty around Florida’s QB situation is a reasonable mental holdup for the over. But thanks to the combination of a bad UCF defense, a mega-iffy Florida defense, and a bowl season that seems to be favoring lots of scoring, I feel fine about picking points.

Florida vs. UCF Pick

Alex Kirshner
@Alex_Kirshner

Alex Kirshner covers college football for the Moon Crew newsletter. He is a co-author of The Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA, and he lives in Washington, D.C.

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