UCF vs Auburn Preview and Prediction: Peach Bowl
UCF vs Auburn Preview
The Auburn Tigers were looking for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but are settling for a battle against the lone unbeaten team in FBS.
The UCF Golden Knights, winless just three seasons ago, are major college football’s only unbeaten team and in a New Year’s Six Bowl for the first time as the best of the non-Power Five conference teams.
UCF won the American Athletic Conference title with a wild 62-55, double-overtime shootout against South Florida on Dec. 2 in what appeared to be third-year head coach Scott Frost’s final game.
Frost, though, is sticking with the Knights for the Peach Bowl before moving on, along with most of his assistants, full-time to Nebraska.
“There’s some unusual circumstances, but our staff is completely committed and we’re going to do everything we can for this football team,” Frost said. “It’s an honor to be invited to this game. These players have poured their hearts out to accomplish a lot this year.”
Former Missouri assistant Josh Heupel, who quickly was named to replace Frost, will be a spectator for the Peach Bowl, spending his time in the Mercedes-Benz press box observing his future team.
With all the turnaround in the coaching ranks of college football this season, that can’t be said for Auburn coach Guz Malzahn, who signed a seven-year contract extension worth $49 million to stay with the Tigers.
“I’m happy at Auburn,” Malzahn said. “Any time you have stability, especially in this day and time in college football, I think it gives you an advantage. We’ve got a very stable program right now. The future’s very bright.”
Offense vs Defense
UCF comes into the Peach Bowl as the nation’s top scoring team at 49.4 points per game, while Auburn is ranked ninth defensively at 17.3 points.
The Tigers never allowed more than 28 points this season, while the Knights never scored fewer than 31.
Battle of the QB’s
You may not have heard of him, but UCF sports a terrific signal caller in McKenzie Milton. Milton ranks No. 5 nationally in passing touchdowns (35), No. 2 in passing efficiency (184.8), No. 2 in completion percentage (69.2), No. 5 in total offense (357.7 yards per game) and No. 6 in passing yards per completion (15.24).
For Auburn, it is former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham who leads the offense. He ranks second in the nation in career passing efficiency, is second in the SEC in passing yards (2,827) and leads the SEC in completion percentage (66.7).
Even better RB’s
The quarterbacks get a lot of the publicity, but both teams have dynamic running backs who will be playing on Sunday’s.
Auburn’s lead back is SEC Offensive Player of the Year Kerryon Johnson, who has 1,320 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns on the season. It is likely that Johnson will declare for the NFL Draft after this game.
Otis Anderson may be listed as a wide receiver, but the freshman who is not related to the former New York Giant can do it all. Anderson has 465 rushing yards to go with his 334 receiving yards and six total touchdowns. He isn’t even their starting running back, but if the Knights want to make something happen against this speedy Auburn defense, Anderson will be the one to make it happen.
Auburn is 3-0 against UCF, with all three wins coming between 1997 and 1999.
UCF has never played in the Peach Bowl, while Auburn’s appearance in the event, which is marking its 50th year, will be its sixth. The Tigers defeated Virginia 43-24 in December 2011.
Adrian Killins, the Knights’ leading rusher with 762 yards and 10 touchdowns, gave the Tigers a little bulletin-board material when he said that Auburn “hasn’t seen any speed like we have.”
The Tigers didn’t jump into a war of words, though.
“I give them credit,” Auburn safety Stephen Roberts said. “They’re a great team, they have good speed, but we come out and play. Speed and stuff and all that don’t matter to us as a defense. We still have 11 guys that are going to play. Trash talk is a lot, but it’s not much.”
UCF’s miracle run will come to an end as they play an Auburn defense that they have not dealt with before this season. I think they will hang with them, but ultimately come up short.
LINE: -9.5 Auburn
Auburn 31 UCF 24