Ball State vs. UCF: Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl Breakdown
Ball State (9-3) vs. UCF (9-4)
Dec. 21, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: This game may not feature big-name programs, but these teams could still put on quite a show. Ball State, making its first bowl appearance since 2008, is still looking for its first-ever bowl victory, as it went 0-5 in its previous outings. But while history isn't on the Cardinals' side, momentum surely is. This year's surprise team from the MAC won its final six games, with its most recent loss dating back to an Oct. 6 defeat at the hands of BCS-bound Northern Illinois. On the other sideline, UCF was the Conference-USA runner-up and boasts a dynamic quarterback and a game-changer on special teams. Sophomore Blake Bortles accounted for 29 total touchdowns (22 passing, seven rushing) in 2012 and tossed just two interceptions in the past 10 games, while C-USA Special Teams Player of the Year Quincy McDuffie led the nation with a kick return average of 34.2 yards. Both teams averaged 35 points per game.
• Keep an eye on: Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning, who missed the Cardinals' regular-season finale (backup Kelly Page started) after having surgery on his fractured right ankle. If Wenning is healthy enough to play, he could provide a major boost to Ball State. The junior has played well against tough competition, highlighted by his 445-yard, five-touchdown effort in the Cardinals' two-point loss to Kent State. But interceptions remain a concern: Wenning has endured three multi-pick games this season.
• Did you know: Both teams are undefeated in night games this year. The Knights have gone 7-0 under the lights, while the Cardinals have won all four of their evening contests.
• Final analysis: Buoyed by a near-home field advantage -- St. Petersburg is just 125 miles from UCF's Orlando campus -- the Knights enter as seven-point favorites. But if Wenning is healthy, Ball State makes for a solid upset pick. The Cardinals feature a balanced attack and a star running back in Jahwan Edwards, who ran for 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012. He'll shine against a UCF rushing defense that has allowed an average of 162 yards per game on the ground. Look for Ball State to prevail in a close one.
• The pick: Ball State 34, UCF 31