Florida may have missed a New Year’s Six Bowl for the first time since 2017 this year, but unlike that season, this team will at least be playing during bowl season. After reaching bowl eligibility with a win over Florida State, the 6-6 Gators were placed in the Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, where they will take on the UCF Knights on Thursday night.
This game carries some intrigue, as some controversy arose between the two schools a couple years ago while attempting to schedule future non-conference matchups. The Knights wanted a home-and-home, while UF wanted a two-for-one. The schools eventually agreed on the latter and will play in Gainesville in 2024 and 2033 and Orlando in 2030.
However, we’ll see an early preview of that series on Thursday night, though neither program is at its best. UCF went 8-4 this season in Gus Malzahn’s first year at the helm, losing four games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2014-15.
Here’s what you need to know about this Central Florida team.
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UCF’s program has existed since 1979, but it’s only been at the FBS level since 1996. It saw just middling success until the arrival of legendary coach George O’Leary in 2004. Within four years, O’Leary won 10 games for the first time in program history in 2007 and eventually led the program to four double-digit win seasons.
The best, however, came in 2013 with quarterback Blake Bortles when the team went 12-1 with a Fiesta Bowl victory, the first BCS/New Year’s Six win in program history. Things took a downward turn in the final season of O’Leary’s tenure in 2015, when the team went 0-12.
But new coach Scott Frost turned things around quickly. In 2017, the Knights went 13-0 and upset Auburn in the Peach Bowl, claiming a national championship in…