Tonight’s Gasparilla Bowl pits two Florida schools against each other: Florida Gators vs. Central Florida Knights

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Gators football team is set to face the UCF Knights in Tampa for the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 23 at 7 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

BOWL EVENTS

  • Beach Invasion – December 21 from 2:30-5:30 p.m. at Treasure Island
  • Pep Rally – December 22 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at The Sail
  • Fan Invasion – December 23 from 3-6:30 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium (Lot 6D)
  • More info on the bowl events can be found here

You can also purchase bowl merchandise here.

For fans not in attendance, there will be many ways to catch the action.

This Gators-Knights matchup arrived a few years earlier than expected.

Following some starts and stops in recent years, the schools agreed to a three-game series starting in 2024, with Florida hosting games in 2024 and 2033, and the Gators traveling to UCF in 2030.

THREE STORYLINES

  • The Gators cap what has been a tumultuous 2021 season that included the dismissal of head coach Dan Mullen, a victory over Florida State with interim coach Greg Knox in charge, and the hiring of Billy Napier to lead the program into 2022 and beyond. Knox has an opportunity to improve to 2-0 in bowl games as an interim coach after leading Mississippi State to a victory in the Gator Bowl four years ago after Mullen left to take the UF job.
  • UCF has billed this game as the “Battle of the Sunshine State.” While the Gators are a program in transition, first-year UCF coach Gus Malzahn has stressed the importance of the game for recruiting and further establishing the Knights’ rise over the past decade. For the Gators, a victory would secure a winning season and some positive vibes heading into a busy offseason. 
  • UF starting quarterback Emory Jones announced earlier this month he plans to transfer after the game, which has served as a popular talking point leading up to the game. Jones has experienced highs and lows in his first season as UF’s starter and represented the Gators well during his four seasons in the program. How will the final chapter of his Gators career end?

THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH 

  • Highly touted UF junior cornerback Kaiir Elam had his only interception of the season when the Gators last visited Raymond James Stadium, a 42-20 win over USF on Sept. 11. Elam’s quiet season was a hampered by a knee injury that forced him to miss three games. Elam hasn’t indicated whether he will return for his senior season, but he said he opted to play in the Gasparilla Bowl for his teammates and to close the season on a strong note.
  • Knights freshman quarterback Mikey Keene took over for injured starter Dillon Gabriel early in the season and threw for 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. Keene became the first UCF freshman quarterback in school history to throw for five touchdowns in a game when he accomplished the feat in a 49-7 win at Temple Oct. 30.
  • Senior running backs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis provide Jones with plenty of talent and experience to get the offense going against a UCF defense surrendering 155.4 yards per game on the ground.

SIX DIGITS

 15 – Years since Gators last played UCF, a 42-0 win on Sept. 9, 2006.
  1,138 – Total yards for Gators in two all-time matchups against Knights.
 4 – Non-offensive touchdowns for Florida opponents this season.
48 – Most points scored by winning team in Gasparilla Bowl, UCF’s 48-25 win over Marshall in 2019.
0 – Non-offensive touchdowns for Gators this season.
27 – Career touchdowns for Gators senior running back Dameon Pierce (22 rushing, 5 receiving).


NOTABLES

  • The Gators are making their first appearance in the Gasparilla Bowl and 47th bowl appearance overall.
     
  • Florida is 24-22 all-time in bowl games, including 1-2 with an interim coach. The Gators lost the Freedom Bowl in 1989 under Gary Darnell, lost the Peach Bowl in 2004 under Charlie Strong, and won the Birmingham Bowl in 2014 under D.J. Durkin.
     
  • Gators interim head coach Greg Knox is 2-0 all-time as a head coach, leading Mississippi State to a win over Louisville in the Gator Bowl in 2017, and Florida to a 24-21 win over Florida State in the regular-season finale.
     
  • Florida has won both all-time meetings against UCF, defeating the Knights 58-27 in 1999 and 42-0 in 2006.
     
  • The Gators have won six consecutive games against in-state opponents dating back to a 2018 win over Florida State. UF beat Miami and Florida State in 2019, and has wins over Florida Atlantic, USF and FSU this season.
  • UCF is 49-12 since the start of the 2017 season, trailing only Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Georgia in victories over that span.
  • UF senior offensive lineman Jean Delance (36) and linebacker Jeremiah Moon (30) have the most career starts of anyone on the roster heading into their final games.
  • UCF is 3-18 all-time against schools currently in the Southeastern Conference, defeating Alabama (2000), Georgia (2010) and Auburn (2018).
     
  • UCF graduate transfer receiver Brandon Johnson, who is the son of former All-Star catcher Charles Johnson, has 11 touchdown receptions. He caught just one touchdown at Tennessee before transferring to UCF.
     
  • If the Gators score on Thursday, it will mark the 33rd consecutive season they have not been shut out. Florida has not been held scoreless since a 16-0 loss to Auburn in 1988.

INJURY REPORT

FLORIDA — OUT: QB Anthony Richardson (knee), CB Jaydon Hill (knee), S Kamar Wilcoxson (knee); LB Ventrell Miller (arm surgery); OPTED OUT: DL Zachary CarterTRANSFER PORTAL: DL Khris Bogle, LB Mohamoud Diabate, OL Gerald Mincey, DL Dante Zanders, DL Lloyd Summerall IIIUCF —OUT:  LB Bryson Armstrong (knee), DL Kalia Davis (knee), RB R.J. Harvey (knee). QUESTIONABLE: RB Isaiah Bowser (leg). TRANSFER PORTAL: QB Dillon Gabriel.

COURTESY FLORIDA ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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