UCF - Marshall: Five Things to Watch

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College football bowl games are a different animal.
By Gasparilla Bowl kickoff Monday afternoon in Tampa it will have been 24 days since UCF last played a game (one day fewer for Marshall).
In between have been some time off, final exams and then a regrouping for Knight preparations for the Thundering Herd.
What exactly will UCF fans see Monday at Raymond James Stadium, home to the NFL Tampa Bay Bucs? That's what Josh Heupel and his staff have been working on these last three weeks—in addition to their work putting the finishing touches on UCF's 2020 early recruiting class.
So, here are some areas to watch when UCF (9-3) plays a Marshall team (8-4) Monday afternoon (2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) that won six of its last seven games and played in this same bowl game a year ago:

  1. Both these teams think they are the home team. Tampa is hardly an unknown venue for UCF. The Knights play rival South Florida every other year (the last time in 2018) in Raymond James Stadium—and the UCF road trip Thursday afternoon encompassed a two-hour drive down I-4. Meanwhile, this same Marshall team played that same USF team just a year ago in the Gasparilla Bowl. The game has had multiple names and sponsors and previously was played in St. Petersburg—but UCF played in this event in 2009, 2012 and 2014 and Marshall did the same in 2011, 2015 and 2018. There's plenty of familiarity all around. 
  2. Maybe the whole football world will be watching. The bowl season began Friday, much of it on ESPN. But the Gasparilla Bowl just happens to be in an exclusive Monday afternoon television window with no other bowl games opposite it. On a holiday week just two days before Christmas, that should make for a good viewing audience as football fans settle in for multiple weeks' worth of gridiron appetizers.
  3. Will UCF regain its fine form? Much of the Knights' success in 2019 came because Heupel's unit rated fourth nationally in total offense (536.6 yards per game) and sixth in scoring (43.0 points). In addition, the UCF defense under coordinator Randy Shannon led the nation in tackles for loss and stands fourth in team passing efficiency defense. So, will the Knight units that take the field Monday be in position to match or better those sorts of regular-season numbers and productivity?  
  4. This used to be a serious rivalry. Back when both these programs resided together in the Mid-American Conference and Conference USA, these two teams met regularly, including 11 straight seasons between 2002-2012. Current players may be too young to appreciate that, but plenty of Knight and Herd fans will recall the days when these two programs went at it seriously every fall. And Marshall presumably knows that the last eight meetings between the two teams have gone UCF's way on the scoreboard (after Marshall won the first three).
  5. There are connections. Current UCF athletics equipment manager Rich Worner previously had the same position at Marshall. His assistant, Dustin Stover, is a West Virginia native who graduated from Marshall and worked in the equipment area there. Brad Helton, who handles video for the UCF football program, held the same job at Marshall for 20 years before coming to Orlando. Brad's wife, Tara, who now oversees academics for the UCF football program, did the same at Marshall. Plus, redshirt junior UCF defensive lineman Noah Hancock is from Beckley, West Virginia, and his brother Chase played linebacker through the 2018 season for the Thundering Herd. The Knights' roster also includes sophomore defensive lineman Anthony Montalvo who lists Tampa as his hometown (Sickles High School) as well as offensive tackle Sam Jackson who is from nearby Bradenton (Lakewood Ranch High School). Meanwhile there are 30 Florida products on Marshall's 2019 roster. 

And one more for good measure . . . .

It's the last time. This will be the final time that UCF players including seniors Jordan Johnson and Nate Evans wear the black and gold colors of the Knights. That has to account for some level of emotion on Monday. That group would love to be able to tell friends and family two decades from now about how they won at least 10 games in each of their final three years and put themselves in the company of collegiate heavyweights Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame in accomplishing that.