Bowl Breakdown: St. Petersburg

Publish date:

Rutgers (8-4) vs. UCF (8-4)Dec. 19, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Reason To Watch: Because you've already seen Elf, which is lined up in the same time slot on CBS. The Scarlet Knights are the only team in this game to have cracked the national rankings this season, reaching No. 25 back on Nov. 15 after a 31-0 drubbing of South Florida. But two losses in their last three games, including a 31-13 embarrassment at Syracuse, took some of the luster away from a campaign that saw them win seven of eight in one stretch. Instead, the other Knights -- the ones from UCF -- are the team that enters this game with a hot hand. After hovering near .500 for most of the fall, they won their final three games, including a 37-32 triumph over 13th-ranked Houston back on Nov. 14.

Keep An Eye On: Both defenses. Rutgers and UCF each led their conferences in both scoring and total defense this season. The Knights, led by defensive end Bruce Miller, give up just 82.5 yards per game on the ground, the fourth-best average in the country. That should give them a bit of an edge over a Rutgers offense that has some balance, but has struggled at times this year along with the travails of freshman quarterback Tom Savage. When UCF has the ball, the Scarlet Knights will have to account for senior quarterback Brett Hodges, who threw for 705 yards and five touchdowns in the final three games, as well as tailback Brynn Harvey, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2009.

Did You Know?: Rutgers is a slight 2.5-point favorite in this game, despite the fact that UCF will be playing just 90 miles from its own campus. Much of that can probably be attributed to the fact that the Scarlet Knights are playing in their fifth straight postseason game, and will be going for their fourth straight bowl victory.

Final Analysis: As it has all season, Rutgers is going to either rise or fall with Savage, who threw just 12 touchdowns during the season while completing a Big-East worst 52.3 percent of his passes. With its strong defensive front, UCF is going to make the Scarlet Knights win this game through the air, and that could be difficult for a freshman quarterback who is likely to be missing his top wideout, Tim Brown, who reinjured his sprained left ankle in the season-ending loss to West Virginia.

The Pick: UCF 21, Rutgers 17. It probably won't be exciting -- predicting 38 total points in this one is just me being wildly optimistic -- but UCF should prove itself as one of the better teams in Conference USA with the win.

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