Central Florida has been bowling before, but the Knights take a huge step up in the stature of their opponent when they face Georgia in the Liberty Bowl.
UCF played the SEC's other Bulldogs, Mississippi State, in this game in 2007. No knock on those Bulldogs, but the Georgia Bulldogs represent the SEC's elite and schools from non-automatic BCS qualifying conferences must relish any opportunity to measure themselves against heritage opponents in heritage bowls. A win, or even a close game, could do wonders for improving how UCF will be perceived on the national college football landscape.
The Conference USA champion Golden Knights (10-3, 7-1 CUSA) are still looking for their first bowl victory in what will be their fourth bowl appearance. Their opponents are making their 46th bowl appearance and have an all-time bowl record of 26-16-3 which represents the 5th-best bowl record of all the teams that have played in 20 or more games.
And, by the way, Georgia is riding a 4-bowl winning streak. The Bulldogs have emerged victorious in 7 of their last 8 bowl trips, and is 11-3 in their current 14-year bowl appearance streak which is tied for fourth-longest nationally with rival Georgia Tech.
Georgia comes into this contest sporting its worst record since 1996. The Bulldogs opened the year with a weak 1-4 start, but won 5-of-7 down the stretch. Five of Georgia's six losses on the season came against SEC bowl teams - South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Florida and Auburn. The only "bad" bad loss was a 29-27 setback at a Colorado team that went 5-7.
In reality, both teams performed close to the computer's preseason expectations. CollegeFootballPoll.com's Congrove Computer Rankings (a.k.a. CCR Top 120) projected Georgia to finish 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the conference. They delivered a 6-6 campaign and a 3-5 SEC mark.
UCF was forecasted to go 11-1 in the regular season, 7-1 in CUSA, and then beat SMU in the conference championship. The Knights came up short at 9-3 in the regular season, but hit the computer's projections of a 7-1 conference mark and a CUSA title game victory over SMU.
UCF's losses came at home to a vastly improved N.C. State squad, on the road against Kansas State, and at home to Southern Miss. While the loss to the Golden Eagles was an upset, all three teams are 2010 bowl participants.
The Liberty Bowl, which was first played in 1959, switched to an SEC-CUSA matchup in 2006. Since then, SEC teams have won all four meetings. South Carolina beat Houston 44-36 in 2006; Mississippi State downed UCF 10-3 in 2007; Kentucky edged East Carolina 25-19 in 2008; and last year's game resulted in a 20-17 Arkansas win over East Carolina in overtime when the Pirates' kicker missed on two game-winning opportunities in regulation and again in overtime.
Georgia edged Central Florida 24-23 in 1999 when the Knights were an upstart independent program. It is the only previous meeting between these teams.
The Bulldogs are 1-1 in two previous Liberty Bowl appearances, but have not played in Memphis in the postseason since 1987 when they defeated Arkansas (a member of the Southwest Conference at the time) 20-17 with a John Kasay 39-yard field goal on the last play of the game.
The computer is 8-4 in forecasting the winner of UCF games this season and 9-3 with Georgia. It is just 3-8 against the spread with the Golden Knights and 5-6 with the Bulldogs. The computer favors Georgia by 4.14 points in this contest. (Such information is tracked for the sole purpose of recording the computer's accuracy in picking games and ranking teams. It is not intended for gambling purposes).
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN on Friday, December 31 at 3:30 p.m. (ET) from 61,008-seat Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee.