The No. 16 Cougars (10-1) are looking to wrap up an 11-win season for the first time since 2009 and their first one-loss season since 1996. BYU saw its New Year's Six bowl dreams go poof after falling a yard short of a game-winning touchdown against Coastal Carolina. Still, the Cougars bounced back to beat San Diego State 28-14 in their regular-season finale and clinch their first 10-win season since 2011.
The Knights (6-3, 5-3 American) are a much tougher team than their record shows. They dropped games to No. 8 Cincinnati, Tulsa, and Memphis by a total of 12 points. UCF is aiming for its third bowl victory in four seasons. The Knights enter the Boca Raton Bowl having won four of their last five games after a pair of early losses prevented them from winning a conference title for the third time in four seasons.
This is the third meeting between BYU and UCF. The series is tied at 1-1 with each team claiming a win at home. The Cougars won in 2011 and the Knights won in 2014.
RoofClaim.com Boca Raton Bowl: UCF vs. No. 16 BYU
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: FAU Stadium (Boca Raton, Fla.)
Spread: BYU -3.5
When UCF Has the Ball
It's fair to say that UCF will go as far in this game as Dillon Gabriel can carry the Knights. The scary thing for BYU is that Gabriel is more than capable of putting this team on his shoulders and willing them to a victory.
Gabriel ranked among the top five among FBS quarterbacks in passing yards (3,353) and total offense (3,491) during the regular season. He threw for at least 300 yards in seven games and eclipsed 400 passing yards on four occasions. With Gabriel running the offense, the Knights averaged 585.6 yards per game this season. His top targets, Marlon Williams and Jaylon Robinson, have combined for 1,974 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Knights are best known for their explosive aerial attack, but they can make plays just as easily on the ground. Greg McCrae and Otis Anderson have formed an effective one-two punch in the backfield, combining for 1,295 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. UCF has not yet lost this season when either back has rushed for at least 100 yards.
When BYU Has the Ball
The Cougars are a dangerous team on offense largely because Zach Wilson is such a skilled playmaker. Wilson could be playing in his final game for BYU. The junior quarterback is widely projected as a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
UCF can expect to see Wilson going all out to leave a favorable final impression and cap off a memorable junior season. He finished the regular season ranked third nationally in total yards (3,509) and fifth in passing yards (3,267). Wilson is third nationally in completion rate (73.2 percent) and passer efficiency rating (194.84). He has a trio of dangerous receivers in Dax Milne, Gunner Romney, and Isaac Rex who could give the Knights plenty of problems.
BYU also will be formidable on the ground if Tyler Allgeier is back to full strength for the bowl game. The running back was sidelined with an undisclosed illness against San Diego State. When healthy, he has been a force in the backfield for the Cougars. So far this season, Allgeier has piled up 957 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
BYU has never won a football game in the state of Florida, going 0-8 in previous trips to the Sunshine State. This includes three past bowl games — the 1976 Tangerine Bowl, 1985 Citrus Bowl, and 2014 Miami Beach Bowl. Can the Cougars finally break through? It will hinge on how well their potent offense travels. UCF will light up the scoreboard. Stopping opponents from doing the same really hasn't been a trademark for the Knights this season. With two elite quarterbacks dueling, this promises to be a fun shootout. It's also one the Cougars can win.
Prediction: BYU 38, UCF 35
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— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports, and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.