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Gameday- UCF goes for perfection in Peach Bowl showdown with Auburn

Olivia Stacey

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Matt Stamey-USA TODAY

The UCF Knights, who were winless just two seasons ago, are major college football’s only unbeaten team. Later today, UCF is making an appearance in a “New Year’s Six Bowl” for the second time as the best of the non-Power Five conference teams. But, this time they are going for the history books.

No. 7 Auburn (10-3) will look to spoil the Knights bid for a perfect 13-0 year. The Tigers, whose
national championship hopes were dashed with a 28-7 loss in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia on Dec. 2, are capping off a successful season of their own.

Here are three story-lines to follow in the New Year’s Day matchup:

1) Will UCF’s offense continue to roll against Auburn’s Top 10 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. QB McKenzie Milton, the AAC Offensive Player of the Year, and teammates are seventh in passing (339 ypg) and 34th in rushing (202 ypg). The Knights have never scored fewer than 31 this season, while the Tigers have never allowed more than 28 points.

There’s no question that UCF’s offense has been explosive, but Auburn will be the stiffest defense they’ve faced yet. Auburn’s 17th against the pass (183 ypg allowed) and 32nd against the run (135 ypg). We wrote previously that the Knights would not be afraid of Auburn. Now, let’s see that play out.

2) UCF’s defense needs to step it up

In their last two games against South Florida and Memphis, the Knights gave up 42 and 55 points. That amounted to 653 and 753 yards, respectively. UCF’s defense can’t afford to continue that trend against the Tigers. One of their biggest threats will be Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, who was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

Johnson has carried the load for the Tigers with 286 touches for 1,508 total yards and 19 touchdowns. UCF’s 67th-ranked rushing defense has been unimpressive, allowing more than 165 ground yards per game.

3) Scott Frost will coach his final game for the Knights

UCF won the American Athletic Conference title with a thrilling 62-55, double-overtime shootout against Memphis on Dec. 2 in what appeared to be third-year head coach Scott Frost’s final game.

Shortly after the championship win, Frost resigned to become Nebraska’s next head coach. However, he’s following through with his word to lead the Knights through the Peach Bowl.

Frost, who is taking his entire staff to Lincoln after the Jan. 1 bowl game, addressed those who believe the outgoing staff isn’t fully committed to UCF’s preparation.

“I know the meaning of the word ‘wearing two hats’ now,” Frost said to the media last week. “They’re both full-time jobs. We’re doing absolutely everything we can to give these guys the best chance that they have. It’s not easy, but I appreciate people on both sides allowing us to do this. … It has been difficult, getting on a plane and flying somewhere and getting back here. It’s not ideal for me, to be honest with you, but it’s the right thing to do and it’s the best thing to do for these young men that have played for us.”

Former Missouri assistant Josh Heupel, who was named UCF’s head coach quickly after Frost’s resignation, is expected to observe his team from the press box for the majority of the game.

Olivia is a multi-faceted sports reporter based in Tampa Bay where she has covered events from the College Football National Championship to the Stanley Cup Final. A native Floridian, she grew up rooting for Tampa’s sports teams, and graduated from East Lake High in Tarpon Springs. Olivia continued her education at the University of Florida where she received her broadcast journalism degree.

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