Four more bowl games are on the schedule today, starting with the Military Bowl between the UCF Knights and Duke Blue Devils. We’ll preview the game and get into which team I’ll be backing in this one.
After a solid regular season, the UCF Knights could not secure the AAC championship as they lost 45-28 to Tulane. Heading into this afternoon's game, the Knights are among the many teams affected by transfer portal departures. To add insult to injury, starting quarterback John Rys Plumlee has been dealing with two injuries since the end and will have to play through them since his primary backup, Mikey Keene, was one of the transfer portal departures.
The dual-threat Plumlee has not been able to use his legs effectively due to the injury, which played a significant factor in the conference championship loss. Plumlee is the teams leading rusher with 827 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, but in the Knights' last game, Plumlee only had nine rush attempts for -7 yards.
Plumlee was able to throw for 209 yards and a touchdown in the game but entering today, he will be without his favorite target Ryan O’Keefe who left for the transfer portal. O’Keefe had a team-high 73 receptions on the year, so Javon Baker and Kobe Hudson will need to step up in his absence.
The Knights’ opponent today, the Duke Blue Devils, held opponents to an average of 23.1 points per game, ranking 32nd in the country. Duke’s biggest defensive weakness was stopping the pass, as they ranked 115th in opponents passing yards per game.
On offense, the Blue Devils also have a dual-threat quarterback in Riley Leonard. The sophomore quarterback is arguably one of the most underrated QBs in the country, as he managed to throw for 2,794 yards and 20 touchdowns, on top of 635 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. This incredible production led to Duke averaging 421.3 yards per game, the 36th-best average in the country.
The Duke Blue Devils are currently -3.5 point favorites, and I’ll be backing them in this one. UCF’s transfer portal losses will be too much for this team to overcome, especially since their defense that allowed 28 or more points in four of their last five games will now be without their primary linebacker Jeremiah Jean-Baptiste along with starting cornerback Davonte Brown.
If Plumlee is still affected by his injuries, then this team will be at a disadvantage on both sides of the ball. The Knights are a run-heavy offense that averaged the ninth most rushing attempts per game this season, but Duke’s defensive strength is stopping the run, as they ranked 22nd in yards per carry and 17th in rushing yards per game.
Duke can limit running backs Isaiah Bowser and R.J Harvey, which is exactly what Tulane did in the conference championship leading to the Knights only rushing for 145 yards as opposed to their average of 231. In every Knights loss this season, they were held to under 150 rushing yards, and Duke has the defensive weapons to do that.
Offensively Riley Leonard and primary receiver Jalon Calhoun can expose this depleted secondary. Even before the Knights lost guys to the transfer portal, they allowed 394 yards passing and four touchdowns in the conference championship.
Duke Blue Devils (-3.5)