ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Ball State, which is riding a six-game winning streak, will face the Conference USA East Division Champion UCF in the fifth edition of the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl on Friday, December 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
When the Big East came up short on eligible bowl teams, a contingency agreement with MAC kicked-in and enabled the Cardinals to be chosen for the open slot. Ball State will be the first-ever MAC team to play in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl St. Petersburg.
Ball State (9-3, 6-2 MAC) scored 30 or more points in 10 of its 12 games this season, including a season-high 52 points in a win over Ohio on November 14. A total of 13 members of the Ball State football team were honored by the Mid-American Conference, including five first-team selections. Among the first team selections is sophomore WR Willie Snead (Belle Glade, FL), who pulled in a team-best 82 receptions for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns. Snead ranks fourth on Ball State's record book in both receptions and receiving yards in a single season.
Head Coach Pete Lembo, who is in his second year with the Cardinals, took over a four-win squad following the 2010 season, and led the program to its most wins since 2008.
The Cardinals are making their first bowl appearance since 2008 when they played Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl. Ball State has played in five FBS bowl games and is still seeking the first bowl win in its history.
This will be the fourth meeting between Ball State and UCF. All three meetings took place while UCF was a member of the MAC (2002-04). The Cardinals, which own a 2-1 series advantage, scored a come-from-behind 21-17 win at home in the last matchup on November 13, 2004.
The Golden Knights, led by a high-scoring offense and a relentless defense, are not where they hoped to be. Two losses to Tulsa in a three-week period relegated them to St. Petersburg instead of Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. The Golden Knights lost a regular season meeting 23-21 at Tulsa on December 17 and had to return two weeks later to play the Golden Hurricane for the CUSA championship game, which they lost 33-27 in overtime. They served as UCF's only two losses in conference play all season.
UCF has displayed an ability to light up the scoreboard, scoring 50 points twice this year and hitting the 40-point mark three other times.
George O’Leary is in his ninth year as head coach of the Knights where he has led the school to all five of its bowl appearances. UCF’s last bowl game was in 2010, which was a milestone game for the school as the Knights claimed its first-ever bowl victory with a 10-6 win over SEC foe Georgia at the Liberty Bowl.
"Any time you get a chance to go to a bowl game, it's a great opportunity for your football team and your fan base to enjoy the excitement of bowl festivities," said O’Leary. "The last time we were in St. Pete, it was a great experience for us. The players and fans thoroughly enjoyed it, and we are looking forward to going back and playing in the bowl this season."
UCF lost 45-23 to Rutgers in the 2009 edition of this game.
Sophomore QB Blake Bortles has had a stellar season for UCF, throwing for 22 touchdowns and rushing for seven more scores. Latavius Murray, the MVP in the 2010 Liberty Bowl, leads the team in rushing with 1,035 yards and has 16 touchdowns (14 rushing/2 receiving). On defense UCF has a plus-11 turnover margin to rank 18th in the nation and second in C-USA.
The Congrove Computer Rankings project UCF to win the game by 6.98 points.