The 2023 Gasparilla Bowl, at Raymond-James Stadium in Tampa, will feature Georgia Tech (6-6) and UCF (6-6). Union Home Mortgage is the fifth sponsor of this bowl game that began in 2008 and was played in St. Petersburg at Tropicana Field through 2017. UCF has appeared in the game five times previously, posting a 3-2 record. Georgia Tech is set to make its first appearance. The two teams provide an intriguing matchup as they both present balanced offenses averaging over 30 points per game.
Georgia Tech is 25-20 all-time in bowl games. However, this is their first appearance in the postseason since 2018. In the 2010s, the Yellow Jackets appeared in bowls 50% of the time and earned a .500 record in those games. On the flip side, UCF has appeared in just 14 bowl games with a 6-8 record all-time. The Knights have had much more recent success. They have not missed the postseason since 2015. Since their first bowl game appearance in 2005, UCF has gone bowling all but four seasons. The Gasparilla Bowl may fly under the national radar, but with Georgia Tech and UCF, it promises to be exciting for college football fans.
Game: Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl; GA Tech vs. UCF
Location: Raymond James Stadium; Tampa, FL
Date/Time; Friday December 22, 2023; 6:30pm Eastern
Georgia Tech Outlook
In his first full season as the head coach at Georgia Tech, Brent Key led his team to a bowl berth. Texas A&M transfer quarterback Haynes King leads the Yellow Jackets and has helped them climb out of the pit that caused a coaching change just a year ago. King completed 62% of his passes this season for 2755 yards and 26 touchdowns. However, he also threw 15 interceptions. With a high interception number like that, UCF will look to take the ball out of the air. The underrated rushing skillset that King possesses is less talked about. He was second on the team in rushing yards in 2023 and led the team with nine rushing touchdowns.
Jamal Haynes led the team with over 1000 yards from scrimmage, mainly from the backfield. Haynes is shifty and makes defenders miss in space. From a receiving standpoint, the Yellow Jackets are led by freshman Eric Singleton Jr. On the defensive side, Jaylon King stands out with four of the team’s 13 interceptions in 2023. Georgia Tech will need to limit UCF’s offense in the Gasparilla Bowl. The Jackets’ margin of victory is very slim on the season. They score 31.2 points per game but give up 30.5. Although Georgia Tech presents a threat to score, their defense has not limited opponents. The Knights tend to make those types of defenses pay.
Gus Malzahn has UCF bowling in Florida. In their first season in the Big 12, the Knights won nine games in each of Malzahn’s first two years, but the transition to a Power 5 Conference was not without bumps in the road. However, this UCF team looks like any college football fan would expect a Malzahn team to play. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee is just as much of a threat on the ground as he is as a passer. He completed 64% of his passes and tossed it for 2,073 yards and 13 touchdowns in just nine games. He did throw eight interceptions during that span as well. Backup Timmy McClain saw significant minutes as well. He played in six games and threw for 1008 yards and nine touchdowns with only two picks.
Make no mistake, this is not just a quarterback-driven team coming from Orlando to Tampa. The Knights have weapons and the capability to explode offensively. Against Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma State, UCF found the end zone six times en route to a 45-3 blowout of the Cowboys. The Gus Bus is rolling on offense, averaging 32.5 points per contest. The defense only gives up 25.4 points per game, giving the Knights an average margin of victory of about a touchdown. Fans should expect R.J. Harvey to make a big impact out of the backfield for UCF. The senior was just four yards shy of 1300 yards rushing in 2023 and found the end zone 13 times on the ground. Alabama transfer receiver Javon Baker led the team in receiving with just under 1000 yards. Watch out for Auburn transfer Kobe Hudson as well.
What To Expect
UCF opened as a 5.5-point favorite over Georgia Tech in the Gasparilla Bowl. That line has moved one point down to 4.5. Still, the Knights have the upper hand. Both offenses will look to establish the running game first. With that, both quarterbacks will take off and run the ball as well. It’s also likely that both quarterbacks will throw the ball to the other team at some point. Momentum is everything in sports, especially in bowl games where the teams may look like a shell of their regular season selves. Therefore, points off turnovers will play a major role in the game. If one team can establish the run more dominantly than the other, that will write the story.
There is an element of unpredictability in all bowl games. Star corner Corey Thornton is in the transfer portal for the Knights. On the other side, Georgia Tech has not had any significant portal losses to this point. By the time the game kicks off on December 22 at 6:30 PM EST, the opt-out and portal additions may rise. Considering that risk, we still like UCF over Georgia Tech in the 2023 Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: UCF 31 Georgia Tech 27