In many ways, the UCF Knights had the most legitimate gripe for being left out of the College Football Playoff. If they do feel a little spurned by the committee, the Peach Bowl matchup against the Auburn Tigers is the prime spot to show the world they belong in college football's top tier this season.
After all, the Knights were the only team to finish undefeated. They picked up three Top 25 wins and won their conference championship game, yet they couldn't break into the conversation for the No. 4 seed with a two-loss Ohio State team and an Alabama team that didn't play in the SEC Championship Game.
Oddsmakers aren't big into respecting what UCF has done, either.
The Knights are sizable underdogs, according to OddsShark. Taking on an SEC power in Auburn should be the perfect stage to test just how good this UCF team is.
Here's a look at all the info you need to take in the game along with the latest odds from OddsShark.
Date: January 1, 2018
Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
Odds: Auburn -9.5
How Auburn Can Win
The biggest mismatch in this meeting—and likely the reason why the Tigers are a fairly big favorite—is in the run game. The Tigers are one of the most run-heavy teams in the country that doesn't run the triple option. They average 4.96 yards per carry in an offense that is 16th in rush attempts per game in the nation.
That running attack all centers on a healthy Kerryon Johnson. The star running back has been the straw that stirs the drink for Gus Malzahn's run-heavy offense, setting up the vertical play action game that Jarrett Stidham has become good at working once safeties are forced to come up against the run.
Johnson was injured after the Iron Bowl, but he toughed out an undisclosed injury to play in the SEC Championship Game. The result was a lackluster performance in which he was limited to 44 yards on just 13 carries.
"He's definitely still banged up," Malzahn said of his running back, per Michael Niziolek of 247 Sports. "You talk about he's just really the heart and soul of our team. The courage he showed, and he wasn't 100 percent. He tried his best."
With nearly a month to get healthy, Johnson should be more than ready to go against a UCF defense that gives up 4.3 yards per carry—good for 67th in the nation.
Defensively, Auburn has one of the most complete units in the country. The Tigers rank in the top 25 against both the run and the pass while ranking 21st in sacks per game.
If Auburn plays defense the way that they have for the vast majority of the season, UCF's explosive offense might finally meet its match.
How UCF Can Win
Simply put, the Knights have to make this a shootout. The defense isn't good enough to stop an Auburn attack that can be dynamic when it gets rolling. Scott Frost's team is 81st in the country in yards allowed per play.
The good news for the Knights is that the offense has the tools to make things interesting against the Auburn defense.
While the Tigers pass rush is for real, UCF has been one of the most elite pass protection teams in the nation. The offensive line has only given up 12 sacks this season, which is the seventh-fewest in the country.
Giving quarterback McKenzie Milton time will be crucial. As College PFF noted, he's one of the best deep threats in college football at the quarterback position:
PFF College Football @PFF_College
With his ridiculous performance against Memphis - UCF QB McKenzie Milton breaks the record for most deep passing yards in the PFF College era - by a large margin. https://t.co/6Xt9PJSD1p2017-12-2 22:50:02
The Knights can't be afraid to take shots down field. After all, they are the underdogs in this one anyway. They have to be aggressive and live with the results.
UCF has the balance to make sure that Auburn doesn't just fly up field on the defensive line. The Knights have a diverse run game that features three rushers over 450 yards in Adrian Killins Jr., Milton and Otis Anderson.
If the Knights can turn this into a shootout, they have plenty of firepower.
UCF is a great story with a better resume than they were given credit for, but this is not a good matchup for them. Auburn is simply the more complete game.
That's before you even consider the coaching situation. Auburn just inked Gus Malzahn to a lucrative extension, according to James Crepea of AL.com. With the Arkansas speculation now behind them, the coach can now focus on game-planning and preparing his team to beat the Knights.
Meanwhile UCF is in an odd transition period when it comes to coaching. Scott Frost has obviously accepted the job at his alma mater Nebraska, but he could still be coaching UCF in this game, according to Clark Grell of the Lincoln Star Journal.
This was a tall task to begin with, but to ask the Knights to pull off the upset with a coach who has one foot out the door is a degree of difficulty too far.
Motivation could always play a factor in these games. The Knights will be eager to prove they belong. Auburn could be disappointed they came so close to the playoff only to lay an egg against Georgia, but barring a major letdown, this is Auburn's game to lose.
Prediction: Auburn 42, UCF 23