For weeks, the rumor mills were swirling, flinging as much feces against the wall in the hopes that Ball State’s resumé would stick in the minds of the higher powers who send out numerous bowl game invitations to programs across the country.
The wait is officially over. Ball State will square off with Central Florida in the Beef ‘O Brady’s bowl on Dec. 21 in St. Petersburg, Fla. at 7:30 p.m. (EST). This game will cap an incredible season for Ball State sophomore coach Pete Lembo and his staff. With an overall mark of 9-3, and a 6-2 record in the Mid-American Conference, it would be unfathomable to leave Lembo and his program hanging out to dry during bowl season for the second consecutive season.
That said, here’s a quick scouting report on Central Florida… The Knights (9-4, 7-1 Conference USA) lost to Tulsa (10-3, 7-1) 33-27 in the C-USA Championship game on Saturday. The Knights have dropped two of their final three games this season, including a pair of losses to Tulsa. (Tulsa defeated UCF 23-21 on Nov. 17).
- In terms of national rankings, UCF is 71st in passing yards, averaging 220 per game; 46th in rushing yards, averaging 178.7 per game; 27th in points for, 35.2 per game; and 29th in points against, 22.5 per game.
- UCF claimed its fourth C-USA East division title this season since joining the league in 2005. This marks UCF’s second appearance in the Beef O’ Brady bowl. UCF lost to Rutgers 45-24 in 2009. UCF will also be making its fifth appearance in a bowl game in its last eight seasons, all of which have come under the direction of coach George O’Leary, who is in the midst of his ninth season at the helm for the Knights. O’Leary is 111-88 as a head coach and is 3-5 in bowl games for his career.
- Ball State and UCF have met three times, with the Cardinals owning the 2-1 edge. Ball State defeated UCF 31-10 on Sept. 21, 1996 at Scheumann Stadium. Two years later, UCF defeated Ball State 37-14 at home. And in 2004, Ball State triumphed 21-17 at Scheumann Stadium, when both programs were members of the MAC
- UCF boasts the second-best offense in C-USA, amassing 62 touchdowns and nine field goals this season. UCF is third in C-USA in rushing offense with 31 touchdowns and 4.79 yards per attempt.
- The Knights are the fifth-best red-zone scoring offense in C-USA (47 scores on 56 attempts), and 45th nationally in that department.
- Defensively, UCF has allowed the fewest points per game in C-USA (22.5), and passing yards allowed per game (217.8). Nationally, UCF is eighth in the nation in fewest penalties per game (4).
UCF isn’t just another game on the schedule for Ball State. UCF presents one final challenge for Lembo and Ball State. It will be a final opportunity for Ball State to rise up once again. It will be another chance for Lembo to bring this program into unprecedented territory. Amidst the hype and publicity, this bowl game is another opening for Ball State to shine–to put the finishing touch on this historical and unpredicted season.
Moving on … I had a chance to chat with athletic directer Bill Scholl Monday night, and in case some of you were curious (I was) as to whether Ball State received early invitations to other bowl games, Scholl provided an interesting response.
“It really doesn’t work that way,” Scholl said. “For the bowl games that don’t have automatic qualifiers, they kind of go one at a time. It’s more of a selection. Once they pick Ball State, they call us and invite us. We could say no, I guess, but we certainly wouldn’t do that. It’s not like we got invitations from three or four different bowls.”
When asked if he thought Ball State got snubbed from the bigger MAC tie-in bowls, Scholl said he was content on where Ball State ended up.
“The two division winners (Kent State and Northern Illinois) typically go,” he said. “We could certainly make a the argument that we finished third. I’m very comfortable with where we ended up. I think we ended up in a great spot.
Regarding the payout for the Beef ‘O Brady’s bowl, Scholl said “the payout was not really a factor.”
More from Scholl on Ball State heading to a bowl game:
“I think it’s a tremendous sign of how far our program has come,” he said. “I’m so happy for our student-athletes and our coaching staff. The student-athletes who have been here more so than the younger kids have been through a lot. To get it to 6-6 last year and actually be bowl eligible … and although they weren’t selected and then to take this step forward and be 9-3 and now be playing one of the best teams in Conference USA, I’m thrilled for them. I’m proud of how far they’ve brought the program in a very short period of time. I think it’s a great sign for our future.”
That’s all for now …
Thanks for reading.