2021 Gasparilla Bowl — Florida vs. UCF: Prediction, pick, spread, odds, watch live stream, TV channel

By Adam Silverstein
December 23, 2021
2021 Gasparilla Bowl — Florida vs. UCF: Prediction, pick, spread, odds, watch live stream, TV channel

Image Credit: Michael Nash

While the Florida Gators have largely been trying to forget a massively disappointing year, they cannot completely move on just yet due directly to their own late-season success. Winning its final game of the college football season to become bowl-eligible, Florida earned a spot in the 2021 Gasparilla Bowl where it will face the in-state rival UCF Knights.

The question entering this game is whether the Gators will be prepared for what they are about to encounter. That is a Knights team that will be treating a midlevel bowl game like a national championship opportunity.

Since the end of the season, Florida’s focus has been anywhere but this game. The program has welcomed a new head coach in Billy Napier, made some waves in recruiting on National Signing Day and largely been looking towards the future. While one still-growing coaching staff has been building for next season, the remnants of the old staff has been trying to get the team ready for this game.

Coupled with a significant number of players entering the transfer portal and an injured starting quarterback, the Gators appear to be entering this game on weak legs. What will go down Thursday in the Gasparilla Bowl? Let’s find out.

Tale of the tape

Florida GatorsUCF Knights
Head coachGreg Knox (interim)Gus Malzahn

Who’s in?

Despite both entering the transfer portal, redshirt juniors quarterback Emory Jones and wide receiver Jacob Copeland have both decided to suit up once more for the Gators. While junior cornerback Kaiir Elam has not yet declared for the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s presumed that he will not play an additional season of college football as a projected first-round pick. Despite that, Elam has chosen to play in the bowl game. So too have a number of seniors who could have packed it in and begun training for the NFL. Most notable among those dressing Thursday is senior running back Dameon Pierce, who is expected to see his draft stock rise significantly through the process.

These are all respectable decisions by players who are not only supporting their teammates and the university but attempting to show out for Gator Nation as well. Jones, who sat on the bench for numerous seasons waiting for his turn to start only to see himself be outshined by a younger signal caller, has every reason to pack it in and focus on choosing his next opportunity. Instead, he’s suiting up for Florida, which is particularly important given the player replacing him, redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson, is missing the game while recovering from knee surgery.

Who’s out?

Opt out (1): DL Zachary Carter (NFL Draft)
Injury (5): QB Anthony Richardson (knee), DL Antonio Valentino (undisclosed), CB Jaydon Hill (knee), DB Kamar Wilcoxson (knee), LB Ventrell Miller (arm)
Transfer portal (5): DL Khris Bogle, LB Mohamoud Diabate, OL Gerald Mincey, DL Lloyd Summerall III, DL Dante Zanders

Viewing information

Date: Thursday, Dec. 23 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium — Tampa, Florida [65,890]

TV: ESPN (Wes Durham, Roddy Jones, Taylor Davis)
Live stream: WatchESPN | SiriusXM: 84/190 | Radio: WRUF, TuneIn
Live updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

Game notes

» Florida is 24-22 all-time in bowl games with wins in three of its last four and an 8-3 mark since winning the 2009 BCS Championship Game. The Gators are 6-2 in bowl games played in the Sunshine State since 2006. It is the program’s first appearance in the Gasparilla Bowl.
» UF is 2-0 all-time against UCF with the teams last playing in 2006. A three-game series between the programs is set to be played in 2024, 2030 and 2033.
» The Gators are 3-0 against teams from the state of Florida this season (FAU, South Florida, Florida State). UF beat USF at Raymond James Stadium back in Week 2.
» Since the start of the 2018 season, Florida is 25-6 when scoring first, 27-3 when leading at halftime, 31-3 when leading after the third quarter, 23-1 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 26-2 when outrushing its opponents. The negative marks in those last two statistics have come this season to Kentucky (both) and Alabama, respectively.
» UF is 8-12 when being outrushed by an opponent and 7-8 in games decided by 10 points or less since 2018.
» Florida is 6-10 against ranked opponents (2-4 vs. top five teams, 4-7 vs. top 10 teams) and 27-7 against unranked teams since 2018. It is also 14-1 against nonconference opponents.
» The Gators have scored 24+ points in 34 of their last 41 games.
» Florida is one of two FBS teams nationally (Alabama) that has not yet lost to an opponent that finished the season with a losing record since 2004.
» UF has scored in 422 consecutive games, an NCAA record.

Prediction and analysis

Spread: Florida -7 | O/U: 56

The Gators enter the Gasparilla Bowl down four key starters, including their best quarterback. They also did not take full advantage of their 15 allotted bowl practices, suiting up just half as many times as allowed by the NCAA. And this is a team that we have seen — plenty of times this season — fail to get up for a game it did not find to be important or challenging enough. Credit to Knox for getting Florida motivated ahead of the Florida State game, one everyone thought UF would lose but we in this space predicted it would win and cover.

At full strength, there is a talent disparity between these programs. However, Malzahn is a legitimate, experienced coach focused on using every opportunity possible to recruit. As such, UCF is setting this game up to be proof that it belongs with the big boys. Nevermind that the Gators are nowhere near full strength, and the Knights are nowhere near as good as they were a few years ago under Scott Frost.

Florida has only defeated one FBS opponent by a touchdown since the start of October, and that team was Vanderbilt. UCF is not particularly strong this season, but it has won five of its last six games, while utilizing all of its bowl practices and entering relatively healthy.

From a pure talent perspective, the Gators would be the choice even with the unavailable players. However, the Knights have literally everything else going for them, including preparation and motivation. Again, we’ve seen what happens when UF enters a game with a lack of will to win. So while Florida should ultimately win, I wouldn’t take it to cover, and there’s a great chance this falls under the total.

2021 records: ATS picks 4-8 | O/U picks 5-6-1

Odds and ends

» Uniforms: Florida will wear traditional blue jerseys, white pants and orange helmets.

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