2018 Peach Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions: Central Florida vs. Auburn
Central Florida Knights vs. Auburn Tigers, Monday Jan. 1, 12:30 p.m. ET
There is precisely one unbeaten team in college football, and they would like nothing more than to stay that way. Central Florida has played a schedule that doesn't get a lot of national respect in the AAC, but they could earn real credibility here. Auburn was one win in the SEC Championship Game away from being a playoff team, and they beat two playoff teams in the regular season - Alabama in the finale, and Georgia the first time they met. So, a team that has never lost against one that has lost one too many games. It sets up a very compelling bowl game.
Peach Bowl Betting Storylines
The coaching situation is a topic of major consideration in this one. Auburn's Gus Malzahn flirted with Arkansas after the regular season but is now locked in with a new contract at Auburn. There is real stability there. UCF, meanwhile, is coming into this game with a situation I just hate. Scott Frost did an amazing job in his time with the Knights, and to the surprise of absolutely no one he went back home to save the program at Nebraska. Instead of putting an interim coach in place, though, UCF let Frost and his staff - most of which are going to Nebraska with him - stick around and coach this game. While Frost was preparing for this game he was also flying around the country recruiting for his new school and preparing for the first early signing day in his new job. UCF needs to be at full strength in this one to have a chance to come out on top. It's hard to imagine that that will be the case with Frost and company only giving half an effort. Plus, the school has made a strong hire replacing Frost with Josh Heupel, and players will inevitably be distracted by his presence around the program. Coaching has been such a benefit to this team all year, but it is a detriment at this point.
While the level of motivation for the Knights is a question, it's not like we can be absolutely certain that Auburn will be here at full strength, either. The Tigers were really flat in the SEC Championship Game, and they had a playoff berth on the line there. This is a game that means far less, and it is definitely not where they were hoping to be playing on New Year's Day. Auburn has a solid edge if they play their best, but that's a big if.
Auburn runs the ball a whole lot, and behind Kerryon Johnson and company they have a potent attack. Johnson has been banged up, but the time off should allow him to get healthy and ready. Defense is not a strength for UCF, so Auburn is going to be able to move the ball aggressively on the ground. To keep things interesting the Knights can't let Auburn control the pace. QB McKenzie Milton leads the top scoring offense in the country, and he leads the country in yards on deep passes by a wide margin. UCF will have to start taking risks early and looking to score points and put Auburn on their heels. They need to punch Auburn in the mouth early to see how they will respond.
Peach Bowl Odds and Betting Trends
The game opened with Auburn favored by 10 points, and that has since fallen widely to 9.5 . The line movement isn't significant, but since two-thirds of bets have been on Auburn it suggests that sharp money is favoring the underdogs to at least some extent. The game opened with the total set at 65 and has been on a slow climb, sitting at 66.5 or 67 depending on where you look.
The Knights are just 1-3-1 ATS in their last five against teams with winning records and 2-5 ATS in their last seven against the SEC. They have gone "over" the total in their last four overall, but the "under" is 7-0-1 in their last eight against the SEC. Auburn is a dismal 0-4-1 ATS in their last five nonconference games and 1-4 ATS in their last five neutral-site games, but are 4-1 ATS in their last five games played on a Monday. They have gone under the total in each of their last six nonconference games.
Central Florida vs. Auburn Peach Bowl Expert Picks & Predictions
I've gone back and forth on this game about a dozen times, and frankly I can't figure out what the right side to be on is. What I can feel confident in, though, is the over. Central Florida views defense as optional, so Auburn will score some points. And Central Florida always scores plenty of points. This is not going to be a defensive battle, so I'd take the over with relative comfort. And I'd skip a side play - though I'd lean towards Central Florida if I absolutely had to.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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