Duke Blue Devils (8-4, 5-3 AAC) vs. UCF Knights (9-4, 6-2 AAC)
Kickoff time: 2 PM ET (December 27, 2022)
Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium - Annapolis, MD
TV: ESPN: Kevin Brown, Hutson Mason, Marilyn Payne]
Online Stream: https://www.espn.com/watch/
According to DraftKings, Duke is a 3.5-point favorite with the over/under set at 62 points.*
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
In the first ever meeting between Duke and UCF, obviously it makes sense for the game to be at the Naval Academy...
The Blue Devils had a spectacular turnaround in the first year under Mike Elko. After 5 wins total in David Cutcliffe’s final two seasons, Duke went 8-4 this season and won Elko ACC Coach of the Year honors.
Offensively, Duke are led by 6’4” sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard. In Duke’s final game of the regular season, Leonard threw for a career-high four touchdowns and 391 yards in a win over Wake Forest.
“Every single person in the locker room had a chip on their shoulder going into this season,” Leonard recently told GoDuke.com. “There was no one that believed in us, but everyone inside the organization did. It was such a good story for me personally. I come in not knowing if I’m going to get the job and, you know, three weeks before the first game I don’t even know if I’m going to get to play this season. That motivation and all of the outside critics really is what brought us to where we are now, and I hope that doesn’t change.”
Defensively, they put together one of the better rushing defenses in the nation, allowing 121.1 yards on the ground per game. Senior linebacker Shaka Heyward led the team with 93 tackles, in addition to two sacks and two interceptions this season. As a team, Duke led the nation in fumbles recovered with 15 this season.
The UCF Knights are on the verge of their ninth ten-win season in program history. It’s also their tenth postseason appearance in 11 years. Under Gus Malzahn this season, the Knights have one of the nation’s toughest rushing attacks with over 236 yards on the ground per game. Two critical pieces of that are running back Isaiah Bowser and athletic quarterback John Rhys Plumlee. Bowser is up to a career-high 14 rushing touchdowns this season with 3.9 yards per carry. Plumlee is averaging 5.8 yards per carry with 11 touchdowns. UCF have rushed for 200 or more yards in nine of their 13 games this season.
Defensively, the Knights have the fifth-best red zone defense in the nation, allowing opponents to score on 37 out of 54 trips to the red zone. 24 of those trips resulted in touchdowns. UCF linebacker Jason Johnson was second in the AAC in total tackles this season with 119. He averaged 9.2 per game. He’ll likely once again be the central piece of the defense in UCF’s final game as a member of the AAC.
Duke have played quite well this year, however, Plumlee might be the best pure athlete they have faced this year. It’s reasonable to expect this to be a fairly good game, but he and Bowser should be able to control the game on the ground enough to get the win. UCF wins 38-28.