One of the most curious and fascinating bowl games is the Jan. 1 matchup in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl with No. 7 Auburn and 10th-ranked Central Florida.
Auburn is battle-tested and still famished. The Tigers beat a pair of top ranked teams during the regular season. Auburn won the Western Division in the Southeastern Conference. The Tigers came within a hair of getting into the national playoffs.
And what did Central Florida do besides get a good suntan in Orlando?
What the Knights had to do was defend its “less than stout” schedule and ultimately its 12-0 record. Auburn is 10-3, and the Tigers are the overwhelming favorite to defeat UCF in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta (12:30 p.m. kickoff).
Central Florida has a lot to prove after beating a schedule full of teams like SMU, Temple, Connecticut, Memphis, Navy, East Carolina and Maryland. But the UCF Knights do believe they are on the level of their bowl opponent, Auburn.
But not everybody believes that. Auburn, however, is preparing for this bowl game as if it was a playoff encounter. The Tigers are taking Central Florida serious, which is probably a good idea.
The Knights have one of the most explosive offenses in the country with sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton (3,795 yards passing, 35 touchdowns) and a flashy receiving corps that includes redshirt junior TreQuan Smith (54 catches for 1,082 yards, 13 touchdowns), sophomore Dredrick Snelson (42 catches, 656 yards) and redshirt junior tight end Jordan Akins (30 receptions, 459 yards, four touchdowns).
Central Florida can run it, too, with sophomore tailback Adrian Killins (762 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Milton (497 yards rushing, seven touchdowns). Milton, although just 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, is a double threat football player.
Auburn still expects to leave Atlanta with victory No. 11 of the season and the Peach Bowl trophy. All-SEC running back Kerryon Johnson of Auburn will play in the game. The Tiger junior has run roughshod for 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
Auburn backups Kam Martin and Eli Stove, both fast and both sophomores, will also get some carries in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Martin and Stove have almost 1,000 yards as a running back duo.
The Tigers will unleash their improving passing game as well with sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham (2,827 yards, 17 touchdowns). Auburn also has some game breakers at receiver, just like UCF, with Ryan Davis (26 catches, 768 yards), Darius Slayton (24 catches, 574 yards) and Stove (28 receptions).
Auburn isn’t afraid to get the ball into the hands of junior split end Will Hastings either. The Little Rock, Ark. native has 20 catches for 408 yards and three scores this season.
The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl won’t be boring, and the game could go down to the wire with the Tigers and Knights.