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UCF Knights vs. Auburn Tigers Point Spread - Pick

UCF Knights (12-0 SU, 7-4-1 ATS) vs. Auburn Tigers (10-3 SU, 6-5-2 ATS)
Peach Bowl
Date/Time: Monday, January 1, 2018 at 12:30PM EST
Where: Mercedez-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
TV: ESPN

By Loot, NCAA Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: UCF +9.5/AUB -9.5
Over/Under Total: 67

On New Year's Day, the Central Florida Knights take on the Auburn Tigers in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. It's a really good matchup, one where a few different stances hold merit. In one corner is the AAC Champion, the UCF Knights, unbeaten on the season at 12-0, but still looking for that validating win. They would find it in this game if they are successful against the Auburn Tigers, ten-game winners out of the SEC. In their last game, the UCF Knights won the conference title in an overtime shootout win over Memphis, 62-55, on December 2. Auburn, meanwhile, last played on the 2nd also, losing to Georgia, 28-7, and falling out of the CFP. They still had a big season and look to finish it strongly here. Let's see what we can come with in this Peach Bowl betting prediction.

While three losses kept them from huge things and the CFP this season, the Auburn Tigers hit some really high notes in 2017. On two separate occasions, they beat the top-ranked team in the country with wins over Georgia and then later Alabama. And despite close losses to Clemson early in the season and LSU in week 7, they were in the mix until losing ugly in a SEC championship rematch to Georgia, 28-7. Some injuries were costly that prevented them from being at their peak at the end of the season. But still, it was a big season for Auburn, one they will be looking to finish well in this matchup.

The quarterbacking of transfer Jarrett Stidham was a big part of the Auburn offense getting on the right track this season. He completed two-thirds of his throws, while throwing only 4 picks on the season on nearly 3000 yards passing. He showed good feet in running in four scores, as well. The time off will surely help the injured shoulder of their main playmaker Kerryon Johnson. His inability to play at 100% was a big part of them losing to Georgia. When near his peak, the running back is a difference-maker with 19 touchdowns this season. Through the air, Ryan Davis, Darius Slayton, and Will Hastings have led the way. It's been good for nearly an average of 35 points a game this season.

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The Auburn defense offers nice balance, good against both the run and the pass. On different occasions this season, we have seen them perform at a very high level, namely in holding Georgia to 17 and Alabama to 14 in their two big wins over number-one teams in 2017. On average, they have given up 17 points a game. There are guys on this "D" that can make a real difference and could be big in this game. Darrell Williams and Deshaun Davis is a pair of action-linebackers who make a ton of plays. And LB Jeff Holland rounds out a strong middle with a massive pass-rushing presence. They only had six picks on the entire season, but made up for it with 11 fumble recoveries.

Central Florida had some kind of season. This game means a lot to them. A conclusive win would make some wonder if they were perhaps good enough to tangle with the best this season. They looked really good at points this season and an unbeaten record speaks loudest. At the same time, their best opponents of the season came in their last two games to South Florida and Memphis, a pair of contests where they needed some late-game drama to win it. Still, they are a battle-tested team that wins and showed its mettle under head coach Scott Frost. However, Frost took the Nebraska job and though he plans to coach in this bowl-game, game-prep duties have been given to interim head coach Troy Walters.

Central Florida led the nation with a robust average of 49.4 points a game. It was an offense that had commendable balance, though their aerial attack was a bit more-featured than the run-game. Sophomore QB McKenzie Milton is not a big quarterback at just 5'11" and under 180 pounds, but his stats sure were big, with 3795 yards on nearly 70% completions with 35 big passing touchdowns. He was also useful on the ground with nearly 500 yards rushing and 7 more scores. Through the air, he got big production from Tre'Quan Smith, who averaged 20 yards a catch on 1082 yards and 14 touchdowns. Guys like Dredrick Snelson, Jordan Akins, and Gabriel Davis have also been useful, as a lot of different guys got involved aerially this season. On the ground, they get a lot of help from Adrian Killins, Jr., Otis Anderson, and Taj McGowan. Those three have combined for 19 touchdowns. There is a lot of room for different guys to be fruitful in this offense.

Sometimes when an offense is so good, it takes some attention off the defense. And at the end of the day, this UCF group looks to be a clear level beneath other teams ranked in the top ten. Giving up a combined 104 points in their last two games speaks to the leakiness on this side of the ball. Still, they look for some of their playmaking to overcome that. Securing 29 turnovers is a big part of that equation. Tre Neal, Mike Hughes, and Kyle Gibson might not have been that stout in coverage this season, but the playmaking has been a big part of their success.

Usually at this level of bowl-play, there are common threads upon which to base a prediction. These teams, however, have basically operated separate from each other. If one wanted to say that Auburn represents too high of a level for Central Florida, that's fair enough. The truth is those close calls against South Florida and Memphis paint a less-than-shimmering portrait of the Knights for the purposes of this matchup. Then again, losing to Georgia by 21 in their last game wasn't a great look for Auburn, either. I see this as being important for Central Florida, but the time off was probably kinder to Auburn and I see them doing enough to get the cover in the Peach Bowl.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Auburn Tigers minus 9.5 points. Bet the UCF vs. Auburn game for FREE by taking advantage of a massive 100% sign-up bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $500 at GTBets!

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