College Football

UCF, Ball State Both Seeking Bowl Redemption

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This story was researched, compiled, written and edited by fall 2012 University of Connecticut sports writing students Molly Ross and Matt Sasso, using information from ESPN, Ball State University and University of Central Florida official websites.

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File Photo by Mike Fettig: Latavius Murray (28) clears Stephon Sanders (23) scoring another touchdown.(NCAA Football: SMU 17 vs. Central Florida 42, Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando FL. Nov. 3rd, 2012)

The University of Central Florida Knights (9-4, 7-1) look to redeem themselves after losing to Rutgers in the 2009 Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl when they face the Ball State Cardinals (9-3, 6-2) (Dec. 21) who haven’t been in a bowl game since that year. Ball State was invited to this year’s Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl because the Big East did not have enough qualified teams to fill the normally automatic conference spot.

The game appears to be a contest between a high flying offense and a stingy defense.

The defensive-minded Knights (C-USA) haven’t faced the dynamic offense of Ball State (MAC) since the Knights left the MAC in 2004. Ball State ranks 22nd nationally in total yards and 31st in scoring while UCF allowed the fewest points (22.5) per game in their conference this season. UCF is 1-2 against Ball State, losing their last matchup in 2004.

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File Photo by Susan J. Wilden – QB Keith Wenning #10 gets popped hard by LB Paul Hazel #99 and fumbles. Ball State recoved the fumble, but lost yardage on the play. (NCAA FOOTBALL: Ball State 30 v. Western Michigan 24 OT, Scheumann Stadium, Muncie IN, October 13, 2012)

Both teams are lead by sophomore stars on offense. The Knight’s quarterback, Blake Bortles, could surpass the 3,000 passing yards mark during the bowl game. He enters the game with 2,787 yards and 22 TDs. Running back Jahwan Edwards of the Cardinals lead the team with 1,321 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. During Ball State’s six-game winning streak to end the season he accumulated 786 yards and nine touchdowns.

“Ball State is a hot team right now, winning six straight, including the road win over conference foe Toledo, which was ranked in the top 25 at the time,” said Brett Dulaney, executive direct of the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl, according to Ball State’s official website. “We look forward to providing a great bowl week experience to the team and their fans.”

Although not enough Big East teams qualified in 2012, it’s possible UCF could be invited to the 2013 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl since the school will join the Big East Conference next season.

“Ball State University is very excited to participate in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg,” said Bill Scholl, the school’s athletic director, according to their official athletic website. “We have heard great things about this bowl and are sure it will an enjoyable experience for our student athletes, alumni and fans from all over the country. Ball State football program is proud to represent the MAC.”

The Cardinals had a successful season in the MAC even with the focus on other schools. They had a 6-2 record in their conference, which was good for 3rd place behind 8-0 Kent State and 8-0 conference champion Northern Illinois.  Second year Head Coach Pete Lembo lead Ball State to their third-highest win total in school history.

Kent State and Northern Illinois both are ranked in the Top 25 and Northern Illinois accepted an invitation to this year’s Orange Bowl to play Florida State. The MAC exceeded all expectations and was a difficult conference to play in, but Ball State held their own.
“We’ve had an outstanding season and are looking forward to allowing the fans of Florida and our fans across the country to see our exciting team,” Lembo said. “This is an honor for our football program and our university.”

Ball State hopes to redeem themselves after they lost their last bowl game to Tulsa in the 2008 GMAC Bowl by a lopsided score of 45-13.

Tulsa has been a problem for both teams. UCF also lost to Tulsa in this year’s C-USA championship game on a  blocked field goal in overtime.

The Knights will put their tough defense to the test when they take on the explosive offense of the Cardinals.

“Playing in the postseason is special for our student-athletes, our program, and our fans, said Athletic Director Todd Stansbury on the UCF athletic website. “We know the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl provides a positive experience for everyone involved. Although UCF lost to Rutgers 45-24 that year, “I’ve heard many good things about UCF’s participation in St. Petersburg back in 2009, Stansbury said. “Playing in St. Petersburg is great for our fans. We are pleased with the success our football team has had this season. They have certainly earned the right to take part in a bowl game.”

Head Coach George O’Leary told UCF’s official athletic website, “We’re looking forward to the competition as well as the festivities in St. Petersburg.”

Having not played each other in eight years, and with both teams having motivation to redeem end of the regular season losses, this should be a game worth watching.

Fans can turn to ESPN at 7:30 p.m. at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.