Well, it’s official. The UCF Knights are going to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the 2023 Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl. This is a rematch of a 2022 game where the Knights won 27-10.
So how did we get here?
The Knights began their inaugural season in the Big 12 conference with much fanfare. After a decade in the American Athletic Conference and a lifetime of not sitting at the adult table, the Knights have the opportunity to be a part of the Power 5.
UCF opened the season sweeping their out-of-conference games against Kent State out of the MAC, eventual Mountain West champion Boise State, and FCS member Villanova. While these games got UCF halfway to bowl eligibility, this part of the story isn’t that exciting.
Enter the conference schedule.
The Knights struggled out of the gate to be able to play a full game. They fell apart in the fourth quarter at Kansas State, blew a 28 point lead at home against Baylor and let a fourth quarter lead slip away at Oklahoma. They later also blew a game at Texas Tech. The Knights were able to dispatch their old AAC brethren Cincinnati and Houston, but were going to have to win at least one against a legacy Big 12 team.
Enter the Space Game and Oklahoma State.
UCF had been 6-0 in their annual Space Game and the good results didn’t change in 2023. The Oklahoma State Cowboys came in ranked 15th and riding high with the running power of Ollie Gordon, the nation’s leading rusher. UCF’s running attack, led by RJ Harvey and his 206 yards, outgained the Cowboys 293-52 on the ground. The score reflected the same lopsided stats as the Knights opened up a 24-0 halftime lead en route to a 45-3 drubbing. This was UCF’s most complete game in the Gus Malzahn era and the Knights improve to 7-0 in their annual Space Game.
So who are the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets?
This isn’t the same team that UCF faced in 2022. Since then, the Yellow Jackets fired former UCF assistant Geoff Collins, hired former UCF assistant Brent Key as the full-time coach, and went 6-6 in the ACC and finished fourth in the conference. The portal hit Georgia Tech hard this offseason with 21 players leaving the program. They countered by bringing 16 players, with 12 of them coming from Power Five schools. Georgia Tech had a yo-yo-like season, defeating ranked teams like Miami and North Carolina, but alternating wins and losses outside of a single two-game winning streak. In the games they lost, they played tough, losing their season opener to Louisville by 5 and their finale to Georgia by 8. They do have a bad loss against 7-5 Bowling Green out of the MAC.
As I outlined here, the Gasparilla Bowl was a very strong possibility. With the bowl games in flux, it was a crapshoot as to who the Knights were going to face, but here we are. The best-attended games in the bowl’s history have all been UCF games and with Brent Key as the GT head coach, this P5 vs P5 matchup has some intrigue.
Originally, Duke was slated to play UCF, but since they played each other last year in the Military Bowl, there was an 11th-hour change in plans. Georgia Tech will be a tougher opponent.
The 2023 Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl will take place in Tampa, Florida at 6:30pm on Friday, December 22nd. There will be more to come here at Sons of UCF.