The NCAA post-season kicks off December 19th, with 33 games being played in a three week span. Seniors will get their last hurrah, and teams will attempt to end their season on the winning side, in the hopes of improving recruiting that follows afterwords. The Sportmeisters will preview each of the 33 games that lie ahead, and provide our predictions as well. Let’s get to it!
St. Petersburg Bowl, December 19th, 8:00 PM, St. Petersburg, FL
Rutgers (8-4) vs. University of Central Florida (8-4)
About Rutgers : The Scarlet Knights limp into their bowl game, having lost two of their last three games since winning seven of eight. They did this mostly behind the arm of true freshman quarterback Tom Savage, who threw for 1,917 yards and 12 touchdowns.
However, he is a freshman and he has struggled, throwing six interceptions (four in the last three weeks) and has completed a measly 52.3 percent of his passes.
His top target is senior receiver Tim Brown, who caught 51 balls for 1,051 and eight touchdowns. When he gets the ball, Rutgers usually wins, as they are 5-0 when he has over 100 yards receiving.
Defensively, the Scarlet Knights gave up an average of 17.1 points per game. That’s thanks to their NCAA best 1.67 plus turnover margin, and their 19th ranked defense (312.17 yards per game). Considering how green their offense is, if the defense can hold down their end of the deal, allowing Savage to manage the game, Rutgers should win.
About Central Florida : The Knights come into the bowl game riding a three-game winning streak, including an upset over then No. 15 Houston.
Sophomore Brynn Harvey churns it out on the ground, with 1,077 yards and 14 touchdowns on the season. This includes five games of 100+ yards, highlighted by a 219 yard, one touchdown performance against Memphis. During the Knights' winning streak, Harvey has averaged 133 yards and two touchdowns a game.
While they run hard on one side of the ball, on the defensive side UCF prevents anyone from gaining ground. Their run defense gives up 82.5 yards per game, good for 18th in the nation and first in Conference USA.
It all starts with junior defensive end Bruce Miller, who has recorded 47 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 11 sacks. Senior defensive end Jarvis Geathers has also contributed 11 sacks on the season. This kind of pressure will be key for UCF against a young quarterback from Rutgers.
The Matchup : Rutgers is in their sixth bowl, posting a 3-2 record, with a three game winning streak. This is also their fifth straight bowl, after going from 1978-2005 without an appearance. UCF is in their third bowl, and third this decade. They are still looking for that first elusive win.
The Big East currently holds a 1-0 advantage over C-USA in the St. Petersburg Bowl, by virtue of a 41-14 win by USF over Memphis in last year’s inaugural bowl game.
The key matchup within this game is going to be the youth and inexperience of Savage against a menacing pass rush that is fifth in the nation in sacks (3.08 a game). With a low completion percentage, and a number of turnovers in recent weeks, if UCF can get early pressure while continuing to stop the run, this game has the potential to be a blowout.
On the opposite side, Rutgers is second in the nation in tackles for loss per game (8.50), and should be able to cool off Harvey, forcing UCF to the air behind senior QB Brett Hodges (2263 yards, 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). Junior RB Joe Martinek is 77 yards away from his first career 1,000 rushing yard season. UCF won’t make it easy.
The Prediction : A defensive matchup, as UCF will rely on pressure to force Savage into mistakes, while Rutgers will use their schemes to slow down Harvey. In the end, UCF squeaks it out, 14-10.